'Endless Poetry' ('Poesia sin fin'): Cannes Review

Endless Poetery 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A feast for the senses.

The latest film from Chilean octogenarian and maverick director Alejandro Jodorowsky ('El Topo'), shot by Christopher Doyle, premiered in Cannes' Directors' Fortnight.

Skeletons and devils — or rather, people dressed like them — come together to celebrate life in general and illuminate Alejandro Jodorowsky’s youth and life philosophy in particular in Endless Poetry (Poesia sin fin), Chile’s self-proclaimed psychoshaman’s second autobiographical feature in a planned series of five. No knowledge of either part one, 2013’s The Dance of Reality, or of Jodorowsky’s singular and semi-surreal earlier output — including 1970s cult classics El Topo andThe Holy Mountain — is necessary to enjoy this gloriously assembled work, however, as it basically functions as a primer on the philosophy of the 87-year-old artist, complete with a king-sized helping of poetic touches and the usual visual fetishes that make his work so instantly recognizable.

Endless Poetry, of which about $300,000 was crowdfunded, takes off where The Dance of Reality ended, with young Alejandrito (Jeremias Herskovits again) and his parents (Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, also encoring) moving from provincial Tocopilla to the Chilean capital. The new film was shot in the actual Santiago streets where Jodorowsky grew up, though with life-sized pictures of the facades of the 1930s being pulled up to cover the modern buildings one by one in what’s one of the film’s typically low-fi yet visually spectacular visual effects. Mom still sings all her dialogue in her mellifluous soprano, with each of her phrases sounding like a warm embrace. But his unloving and strict father is now worried about the influence of the outside world on his son, as he’s inching his way into his teenage years.

The discovery of Garcia Lorca’s poetry would have a profound effect on Alejandrito, though his father — very well informed for a 1930s working-class fabric salesman from the sticks — announces the poet’s a “faggot”, just like all poets, dancers and artists. So clearly, his son needs to become a doctor instead. One of the movie’s loveliest touches is the way in which little Alex deals with this as his fey and fabulously dressed cousin, Ricardo, comes on to him and instead of reacting with malice, Alejandrito kindly states he’s not “that way” but they can still be friends (the fact Ricardo introduced him to a world full of artists in Santiago must have had something to do with that as well). Alex even says “yes” to a request for a goodbye kiss, which, in an ironic turn of events, confirms the young man’s suspicions he might, indeed, be straight.  

Fast-forward several years and Alejandro is now played by Adan Jodorowsky (Alejandro’s real-life son, guileless), who meets his first love, a red-haired, partially body painted punk poetess called Stella Diaz (also played by Flores — analyze that, Freud). She’s the virgin he was prophesied to meet, though he finally asks for a timeout so he can find himself again, rather than just being a reflection of her outsized personality. Indeed, the feature’s recurring theme seems Alejandro’s quest to find himself or come back to his true self, which of course makes sense as this part of the cycle looks at Jodorowsky’s coming-of-age in general and his decision to become a poet in particular (he didn’t dedicate himself to cinema until he lived in Paris, though this film ends just as Alejandro’s packed his bags and is ready to leave Chile).

Ignoring his father’s disapproval, Jodorowsky becomes friends with a lot of artists, including future greats such as poet and novelist Enrique Lihn (Leandro Taub), with whom Alejandro one day decides to walk through the city in a straight line, obstacles be damned because “poets can do what they want”. This is not only a cute visual translation of what’s part of Jodorowsky’s life philosophy but also puts a playfully poetic spin on the hardline “linea recta” or “straight line” group that would emerge when Ibanez became president for the second time in the early 1950s. Perhaps foreign viewers won’t catch all the references, but even those completely unversed in recent Chilean history will understand Ibanez (Bastian Bodenhofer) was no good in the first scene in which he appears, as Jodorowsky has imagined a delirious crowd waving flags with swastikas to welcome back the leader who promises he’ll “sweep clean the nation” (an ironic slogan since his ascent was part of the reason the director left the country).

Since the film’s inspired by Jodorowsky’s life, there is an episodic quality to the material that comes with the territory and as in Dance, the two-hour-plus feature — occasionally narrated onscreen by Jodorowsky himself, standing next to his younger self — could’ve benefited from a tighter edit. But thankfully there are several recurring elements that function as a kind of glue. Firstly, there’s the filmmaker’s aptitude for striking visuals (here shot by star cinematographer Christopher Doyle), such as when a group of 500 people dressed as skeletons in one street and a similar group in a parallel-running street, dressed as red devils, merge at an intersection. Full-frontal nudity and especially the skeleton motif have practically become synonymous with Jodorowsky’s universe and they return here against the fabulously designed backdrops designed by the director, who mixes period and contemporary materials throughout. The score, again by his son Adan, is totally in tune with the film’s shifting moods, from jocular to soulful and back. And humor is also an important component, such as in the presence of black-clad “ninjas” in quite a few scenes, acting like invisible prop masters, except that you can see their every move, to hilarious effect.

But most importantly Jodorowsky keeps circling back to the question of who he is and how poetry is inextricably linked with how he experiences the world. The most gorgeous example of this comes in the final confrontation with his father, with Alejandro symbolically shaving his father’s head and insightfully stating that “by not loving me you revealed to me/that love is all-important”.

Production companies: Satori Films, Le Soleil Films, Le Pacte

Cast: Adan Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Leandro Taub, Pamela Flores, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jeremias Herskovits, Julia Avedano, Bastian Bodenhofer, Carolyn Carson, Adonis

Writer-Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Producers: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Moises Cosio, Abbas Nokhasteh, Takashi Asai

Executive producer: Xavier Guerrero Yamamota

Director of photography: Christopher Doyle

Production designer: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Costume designer: Pascale Montadon-Jodorowsky

Editor: Marylube Monthieux

Music: Adan Jodorowsky

Casting: Roberto Matus A.

Sales: Le Pacte

No rating, 128 minutes