Endless Poetry is the second installment of a planned five-part series to document the life of Chilean writer-director-cult favorite Alejandro Jodorowsky. It’s not only an ambitious undertaking but an optimistic one: Jodorowsky is 88 years old and making these films himself. But if this chapter as well as its preceding one, 2013’s The Dance of Reality, are accurate indications, Jodorowsky’s ability to craft vivid, fanciful features is in no danger of flagging.
If you’re not familiar with the El Topo director, a line from Endless Poetry can serve as a guide: “Perceive reality differently.” The film continues Dance of Reality-style, portraying Alejandro as an adolescent (Jeremias Herskovits) and a young adult (Adan Jodorowsky, one of Alejandro’s sons) who butts heads with his strict, emotionally distant father, Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, Alejandro’s eldest). Alejandro’s mother, Sara (Pamela Flores), is more nurturing, but the director has Flores sing all of her lines operatically—a good enough reason for her child to leave home.
Of course, that’s not really why Alejandro breaks away from his parents. His father demands that he study to become a doctor, but Alejandro buries himself in books of poetry whose authors Dad disparages with venomous homophobic slurs. A rebellious act at a family gathering leads Alejandro to an artists commune to escape; he then opens his bedroom door one day, no longer a kid but a man. He revels in the creativity around him—dancers, painters, musicians—and his housemates in turn encourage his writing. Alejandro may not have rolls of cash like his merchant father, but he’s giddily happy. “I have sold my devil to the soul!” he exclaims at one point. This play on the saying may not make sense, but points for trying.
Though a little Jodorowsky goes a long way, Endless Poetry is the director’s most accessible film to date. The story is linear and often funny, even if you’re not initially sure if it’s supposed to be. (When Sara’s mother visits to commemorate the anniversary of her son’s death, she cries, “Oh, Jose, how could you choke to death on a piece of strawberry cake?” while destroying the strawberry cake Sara made for the occasion.) It’s peppered with portrayals of real Chilean artists such as Stella Díaz Varín (Flores), Nicanor Parra (Felipe Ríos), and Enrique Lihn (Leandro Taub), with the bawdy, beer-guzzling Varín an especially memorable character.
And Jodorowsky doesn’t deviate from his penchant to put sexuality on display—breasts and penises populate the screen as nonchalantly as the pieces of a set. Gay men are also woven into the story.
As Alejandro experiences the highs and lows of being a poet, occasional difficulty with relationships, and an existential crisis, Jodorowsky randomly pops up onscreen to serve as a guide to his younger self—and at the end, he reassures Alejandro about his future and tells him what to expect. Until then, there’s a lot of weirdness, such as a bar where tuxedo-wearing waiters move in slow motion or servants covered in black—including their faces—who slip in and out of rooms. Scenes outside are often washed in blue. And characters show up unidentified, including a May-December couple who finds puppets that look like them, leading to an epic kiss that threatens to go Team America: World Police.
Yet it’s all surprisingly compelling. You accept this odd world and the even odder people who populate it. Intentionally or not, Varín defends it best: “Poets don’t explain themselves.”
Endless Poetry opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.