AKA POESIA SIN FIN
IN SELECTED CINEMAS: NOW
RUNNING TIME: 128 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HFC Critic
The Jodorowsky family; Jewish/Ukrainian immigrant Jaime, his wife Sara, and their son Alejandro move from the quiet coastal town of Tocopilla, Chile to the much larger Santiago. As Alejandro becomes a teenager, Jaime still rules the family with an iron hand, and Sara still sings all her words. Jaime wants his son to be a doctor, but Alejandro is inspired when he discovers poetry, and, against his father’s wishes who considers all poets, dancers and artists to be “faggots”, not only runs away from home but begins to live with a group of free thinking, creative individuals where he devotes hours to perfecting his art of puppetry and meets his first love, a red-haired, partially body painted punk poetess called Stella Diaz….
Us oddballs known as Alejandro Jodorowsky fans had pretty much resolved themselves to the fact that the eccentric genius would never make another movie until The Dance Of Reality came out, 23 years after his previous film. It proved that the man hadn’t lost any of his style and his fascination with surrealism, mysticism and philosophy, while also introducing a softer, warmer element that hadn’t really been seen before outside of his rarely seen family fantasy The Rainbow Thief which can probably only partly be considered a ‘true’ Jodorowsky film as he was constantly overruled during its production and he says that the finished product was nothing like what he intended. He claimed that he intended to lose, rather than make, money with The Dance Of Reality, and that may well have happened considering that this sequel also had to be partly funded via Kickstarter, but us fans were over the moon that he was making his follow-up so quickly. In fact, Jodorowsky has said that Endless Poetry is part two of a planned semi-autobiographical five film series which tell his life story, but in a typically Jodorowsky way….which to the uninitiated means weird, and comprised as much of performance art as, say, surrealism. He’s 87 years old, so I’m not sure that he’ll be able to actually achieve his goal, though watching him on interviews reveals that he’s barely changed in the last twenty years.
In any case, Endless Poetry manages to be even better than its predecessor. Again, the writer/director is looking back on his youth with honesty, openness but also with the wisdom of old age, exaggerating many things and including touches of fantasy but never diverting from the emotional truth of what he’s trying to say, but here he also gives us nothing less than an unashamed love letter to art and in its power to heal, transform and liberate. Real-life artists of the time whom the young Jodorowsky met and was inspired by such as Enrique Lihn, Stella Díaz Varín and Nicanor Parra float in and out of the picture, but even if you haven’t seen The Dance Of Reality you’ll know by now that conventionally autobiographical Endless Poetry most certainly is not. This is a film in which – for example – the director actually appears on screen to talk to his younger self a few times, but far from jarring or seeming unnecessary, these scenes are very moving and in some ways the heart of the film. This is a film in which its protagonist finally loses his virginity to a little person who’s menstruating, but, rather than the scene just coming across as being shocking for the sake of being shocking [like one could say about some of Jodorowsky’s previous work], it’s actually rather sweet and touching. This is a film in which a major character sings all of her dialogue, but it’s not just a bit of madness, it shows in semi-surreal terms a way in which a woman is coping with having a domineering husband. There’s meaning in so much of what Jodorowsky puts on screen, but you do have to surrender to his strange, at times almost abstract, vision.
Beginning with where The Dance Of Reality left off with the Jodorowsky family leaving a small town for a much bigger one, we then get a genuinely magical moment where a present-day Santiago street is transformed by roll down black and white photo mural drapes into the street of his youth. Sure, it’s artificial, but then elaborate special effects [which the film wouldn’t have been able to afford anyway] would have been just as artificial in a way. The simplest way of doing something can be just as worthwhile as more complicated methods. The theatricality of much of what we go on to watch is sometimes added to by black clad extras taking items off characters on the side of the screen, which is a device which I personally could have done without but which certainly didn’t inhibit my enjoyment. Anyway, we then visit the family shop which has a little person dressed as Adolf Hitler [could this be the same little person from the first film who wore various guises?], plus a man on stilts dressed as a Nazi general guarding the entrance. Jaime is introduced encouraging his son [now called Alejandro rather than Alejandrito] to put the boot into shoplifters and stripping one female thief naked in the streets. It’s all about money and being manly with Jaime, but Alejandro isn’t really like that, and the discovery of poetry has a profound effect on him. As an act of rebellion and fustration, he cuts down a tree in his uncle’s garden, but his fey cousin Ricardo loves what he did and introduces Alejandro to a bunch of artists, some of whom he moves in with, which probably partly explains why the virgin Alejandro doesn’t react to Ricardo’s advances with any malice.
Fast-forward several years and Alejandro is now happily making puppets and falls in love with poetess Stella Diaz [Freud would be interested in the fact that she’s played by Pamela Flores, the same actress who plays his mother] though their relationship has its obstacles. Truth be told, there’s not really much plot throughout, just a series of sequences which often serve in stepping stones in Alejandro’s quest for truth, meaning and happiness, but the pace is fast and there’s a lightness of touch throughout. There’s a visually striking set piece near the end involving crowds of people dressed as devils and skeletons respectively coming together, but perhaps the best scene in the whole film is one that serves as comedy but also as a wonderful depiction of free expression. Jodorowsky and Lihn have become friends and decide in the space of a few seconds to walk only in a straight line. This amusingly involves conquering whatever obstacles are in their way. While one of the first shots happens to be of a stabbed man with his guts hanging out, Endless Poetry is even less interested in being shocking than The Dance Of Reality [unless you consider things like nudity of both sexes to be offensive], the filmmaker really having mellowed with age and, while his father features less in this episode, Jodorowsky still seems to be trying to exorcise the issues he had with him, the art of film enabling him to actually go back in time and put right an important moment between the two of them which went very wrong.
Endless Poetry has a much richer look to it than The Dance Of Reality, much of which is no doubt down to the employment of that cinematographic master Christopher Doyle to photograph it, but throughout there’s much more of an emphasis on setting and several unforgettable locales which could have come straight out of a dream. Most notable perhaps is a mostly black and white bar [not too different looking actually from many of the real-life soulless bars which are propping up all over the place in the UK in place of pubs] which is supposed to be where all the local artists hang out but which actually contains just lots of depressed old men with their heads down. I guess we’re being shown that it’s all too easy for creative people to become consumed by failure, anger and depression and end up having actually created very little in their lives. As long as you know that you’re not going to see a typical movie, there’s a lot that’s actually quite easy to at least partly understand [this is no Holy Mountain, that’s for sure], and the previous film’s esotericism is gone [there’s little of its political elements either aside from one short bit near the end], though Jodorowsky still shows his recurring interests in certain things like little people and paraplegics.
Jodorowsky’s real life son Adan plays himself as a young man and very impressive he is too, though as before the majority of the acting is deliberately very theatrical. It mostly works apart from the odd moment. Adan also writes the score again, and brings back some previously heard themes along with some new ones in quite a diverse effort, though he’s a little too fond of using classical music here and there. One song was also heard in Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre. There’s very little I can find to really fault in Endless Poetry though. It’s deep if you want it to be, but also nothing less than thoroughly entertaining as long as you’re willing to look at things a little differently. That’s what the film and its creator are basically asking us to do; to try to see the world through the eye of the poet – or at least the person who is willing to imagine and dream and at least try to create – to try to find poetry – and therefore beauty – wherever we go and look. It’s inspiring and full of positivity about life yet in places deeply poignant. I saw it at around lunchtime in a cinema with seven people. All of us were alone. Two of us clapped at the end and everyone stayed through the end credits. There may not have been many of us there, but I distinctly felt that we all found the film to be a really rewarding experience, that we’d had our lives enriched in some way by seeing it. Unfortunately it also means that the rest of the year for movies stands a good chance of being a disappointment.