“You should not fear getting old, you become free from concerns about sex, money and passions. It is the time when you detach from yourself.”
Well into his 80s, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky is returning to his youth. Endless Poetry is his second in a trilogy of autobiographical films, following 2013’s Dance of Reality and it picks up from where the previous one ended. The film depicts young Alejandro from his early teens when he moves with his parents to the city, shows him growing into an adolescent rebelling and revelling, thwarting his father’s ambitions for him to become a doctor and pursuing his ambitions to be a poet. He finds and loses his muse, joins a ‘family’ of artists, and tries to figure out who he is and what he wants.
But coming from Jodorowsky this is no normal autobiography. Famed for his wild imagery and surreal symbolism, this is just as imaginative as his early midnight movies such as El Topo and The Holy Mountain. For example, right from the start his mother only sings, she never speaks, and that’s fine with the viewer – it expresses her character and the tender memory the boy has for his mother’s kind voice. Everything is similarly exaggerated and stylised, to express the truthful essence and significance of each situation, more than just the facts of the event. Many reviewers reference Fellini.
The trick, that he pulls off magnificently here, is to make his magic-realist filmic world consistent within itself. You accept and welcome this colourful fantasy world, not just for its stunning imagination and visual flair but for its expressiveness.
Jodorowsky is the narrator and he occasionally steps into the frame to console or advise his celluloid younger self as he stumbles through youthful independence and artistic expression. This gives the narrative a subtle dual quality: we watch the story uninitiated and simultaneously we benefit from Jodorowsky’s hindsight which is conveyed by both his direct interventions and the stylised artistic rendering of events. This in turn gives the events and their outcome a sense of inevitability; the film has the flow of a waltz, there’s a musicality to it. It’s delightful and brimming with ideas.
This is a warm human film, loving and sentimental, but it isn’t sickly sweet. As is the norm with this director there are some frank and shocking moments that many viewers may find challenging and uncomfortable, but it never feels gratuitous. The self-detachment that the older Jodorowsky describes gives him a useful distance – he doesn’t flinch from depicting his youthful self as immature and embarrassing; he doesn’t regret his young drive to find his path, but acknowledges a complex debt to his parents that he rejected at the time and this gives film some pathos. Although this is the middle film of the trilogy – we come in part way into the story and leave before the end – I think it could be watched standalone.
For some reason, Jodorowsky’s films never get a wide release in the arts cinemas – my screening was one of a small number in London and it was entirely sold out – so it’s worth making the effort to enjoy this beautiful and unusual film on the big screen while you get the chance.