2016; written and directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky; 128 mins
I could get really bogged down in this review but suffice to say it gave me a helluva lot to think about but it was equal parts greatness and patience-testing “sexcrement”*! But look, if you’re the kind of person who shuts down as soon as anyone even dips their toe in artistic language then stop reading now. To be honest, if that last sentence irked you then goodbye!
87 year-old Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s second chapter, after 2013’s The Dance of Reality, of a mooted five part “auto-biopic”, Endless Poetry charts his transitional years as he shakes off the influence of his family and embraces poetry, the occult and surrealism. Set in Santiago in the 1940s (although, the film willfully bleeds into the 21st century every now and again), the teenage Alejandro flees his awful, abusive, corrupt family and goes to live with the Bohemian set in the city.
Positives first: the first hour is really terrific! It plunges you into Jodorowsky’s memory as the Chilean streets bustle with people, all wearing almost featureless masks and a little person dressed as Hitler shouts fascist propaganda next to a stilt walker in SS gear outside Jodorowsky’s father’s shop. The father (Brontis Jodorowsky) is a dictatorial bastard – greedy and cruel. The father/son relationship produces a great scene when young Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) sits down to secretly type out his first poem and a big mirage of his father’s head appears on the opposite end of the table, shouting “faggot” after every line. Tough love does not work on the weak, gawky son and he becomes compelled to run away.
Later, there’s a great sequence depicting adult Alejandro(Adan Jodorowsky)’s tempestuous first love, including a fantastic fight in a gay bar which really cleverly overturns prejudices and sexual hierarchy (for want of a better phrase). It should be said that it does it in a way that’s fun and bawdy too which is emblematic of what is so great about the first half – it has more of a sense of humour. It’s also exemplary of the film’s greatest virtue which is it’s treatment of sexuality: Jodorowsky doesn’t care whether whether you’re straight, gay, trans, differently abled or what your waist measurements are – everyone gets a fair crack of the whip and anyone can be sexy… well… the parents aren’t. Gotta draw the line somewhere.
However, the second half is quite a drag. It’s intermittently brilliant but those moments are few and far between and herein lies my problem: am I meeting wank with wank? I love surrealism and there are so many moments in here which really fly but it’s odd that an image at the beginning which seemed like genius, when mirrored at the end, comes across as bollocks. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life springs to mind as, like here, certain passages go way too close to interpretive dance and performance art for my tastes but then, in Tree of Life, I thought the scene of emotional dinosaurs was unfairly maligned. Haven’t worked this one out yet.
Something just goes missing once he starts hanging out with the poets and the Bohemians. At it’s worst, it reminded me of those carefree students who bookend Antonioni’s Blow-Up and gave me so many revenge fantasies. It may well be a personal political thing that I loved the story of the working class Chileans and then once it went to hipster prototypes, I just wanted him to go back to decent, honest misery. It could well be that I just saw too much of my own early attempts at rebelliousness through art but I now look back and think “tit”, whereas Jodorowsky looks back and thinks “Bravo”! Put it this way, when his mother sings all her dialogue like opera, I was onboard. When the two lovers spoke to each other through telepathy and hand puppets – it lost me.