Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Cast: Adan Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Leandro Taub, Pamela Flores, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jeremias Herskovits, Julia Avendaño
Running Time: 2:08
Release Date: 7/14/17 (limited); 7/28/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 27, 2017
After a 23-year hiatus, Alejandro Jodorowsky has now made two films over the course of three years—both of them autobiographical and both somewhat downplaying the surrealism that made him a name in the cult-film circuit of the 1970s. Endless Poetry continues to chart the filmmaker's life story, which was first told in The Dance of Reality, about his childhood in a coastal city in Chile. This film begins where the previous one ended, with the Jodorowsky family leaving Tocopilla for the capital city of Santiago. In the film's first theatrical flourish (if one doesn't count the boy's mother, who sings every line of dialogue as if it was an aria), the streets of Tocopilla become the streets of Santiago with the raising of painted draperies over the storefronts. As much as things may seem to change, they are always the same.
That observation isn't just about the streets. It's also about this family. Despite going through a life-changing journey that followed the attempted assassination of a dictator, Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, the filmmaker's eldest son), the patriarch of the family, is still as hard, cruel, and abusive as he was before his experiences in the previous film (The reversion makes the lengthy section of Jaime's travels in the last film seem even more out of place). He routinely insults his son, forces him to kick a shoplifter while the man is helpless on the ground, and insists that the boy abandon his artistic proclivities and study to become a doctor.
Sara (Pamela Flores), the mother, sings the obvious: She believed her husband had changed, but he hasn't. Such is the way of the world and the people within it.
Alejandro hasn't changed much, either. At the beginning of the film, he's still a child (played by Jeremias Herskovits), looking for some sign of affection from his father or, barring that, at least some acceptance. After a disastrous get-together with his extended family, Alejandro leaves his parents and joins a commune of artists in the city. Now a young man (played by Adan Jodorowsky, the filmmaker's youngest son), Alejandro wants to become a poet. He's ready, but another artist who lives in the commune encourages him to get out of the house.
A local bar, which serves as a meeting place for poets and their muses, is his first stop. There, he meets Stella Díaz Varin (also played by Flores, which would make for some intriguing Freudian readings of the film, if not for the fact that the Flores' performance is so transformational).
She's a rambunctious, fiery personality—a woman who chugs two liters of beer in a single tipping of the bottle, can level a taller and stronger man with one punch, and violently scribbles her poetry into a little notebook that has ready at all times. Alejandro is smitten—maybe even in love—with Stella at the sight of her first punch. Their relationship seems to be continuing a cycle of abuse in Alejandro's life, although he invites it upon himself this time.
Jodorowsky, who wrote and directed the film, offers another straightforward, coming-of-age story here. Even though it's about a period in his life when he began to explore the various spiritual, mystic, and philosophical thoughts that would come to dominate his work as a filmmaker, he seems to have softened a bit in terms of the surreal.
"Softened a bit" is a relative observation, of course. There are moments and conceits here that have no place in the real world. A stagehand, dressed from head to toe in black, appears in certain scenes to give and take props to and from the characters. Early on, there's a gag involving Sara making a cake during an earthquake, which seems to have no effect on her frosting abilities. A grand parade of skeletons and demons in the street has Alejandro, dressed as an angel among death and evil, debating with his reflection about mortality. The filmmaker himself appears, again, as a presence of conscience, wisdom, and compassion for his younger self, offering kind words when the young man needs them and answers to his questions about the future.
The filmmaker may be moderating his previous tendencies a bit. In their place, though, there's something else that Jodorowsky has discovered in this nostalgic trip back in time to recreate, reexamine, and, at points, reconfigure his past: a clear emotional through line. It's not mere sentimentality, because the various narrative and stylistic oddities keep that at bay. The strangeness, though, also highlights the film's sincerity, because we don't expect it after being treated to these various curiosities.
Jodorowsky is genuinely thoughtful and searching in assorted scenes, such as a moment when Alejandro, having celebrated his family home burning down, finds himself becoming overcome at the sight of his childhood tricycle among the ruins. There's a scene, which wouldn't be possible without the combination of the bizarre and the sincere, in which Jodorowsky changes the truth of his past by bringing Alejandro and Jaime together in an embrace. The image might be the most affecting thing the filmmaker has ever done. In it, we have a man embracing a representation of himself and one of his father, while, in reality, he is hugging his sons.
At times, Endless Poetry seems to confirm the suspicion that there is no bigger fan of Alejandro Jodorowsky than Jodorowsky himself. This isn't intended as a slight. Now at 88 and still as confident as he ever was, the filmmaker has earned that level of self-respect.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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