Endless Poetry (2017)

100

There is a moment in Endless Poetry (Spanish: Poesía sin fin) where Pequeñita (Julia Avendaño), one of the main characters’ girlfriends with dwarfism, encounters someone equally in stature to her – the stranger simply says “You are small. I am small. Together we can grow” – this is one of the most touching moments I have ever experienced, and it is a representation of Endless Poetry as a whole, one of the single greatest pieces of cinema that I have ever seen – I say that without a shred of hyperbole or fanaticism – Endless Poetry is one of the most extraordinary films ever made, and when you consider that it is a film by Alejandro Jodorowsky, one of the most important filmmakers to ever live, you can begin to understand precisely why this film is just so impressive and an absolute work of art. Forgive me if I do tend to enter into the realm of shameless adoration, but when you have experienced something like Endless Poetry, there is very little else to do other than gush about the absolute brilliance. Endless Poetry is not a film – it is pure magic, in the most celestial sense.

Let’s take a trip beyond this film, and into the weird and wonderful mind of the person behind it – Alejandro Jodorowsky. I have a very deep connection to the filmmaker – like many cinephiles, I affectionately refer to him as “Jodo”, and I have been captivated by his films for years and years. Santa Sangre, El Topo, The Holy Mountain and even The Rainbow Thief ­– yet for far too long it seemed like the latter film was going to be his last – made in the early 1990, it was Jodorowsky’s seemingly final film, as he didn’t make another one – and then to the heavenly joy of cinephiles everywhere, he returned to filmmaking in 2013 with The Dance of Reality, quite literally his most personal film, in the sense that it was a film about himself, telling of his childhood in Chile, to Ukrainian parents, and how he overcame the challenges a young Jewish boy would experience in the tumultuous years of the first half of the twentieth century. It was a magnificent film, and I honestly felt that everything that made Jodorowsky a highly influential and important filmmaker was put on display there.

Then he continued the saga with Endless Poetry – and I can honestly say, as someone who utterly adores Jodorowsky, that Endless Poetry is his greatest film. It is a monumental achievement, and the exact reason why Jodorowsky is in the pantheon of great artists. Yet, what is it that makes Endless Poetry such a divine film? There are too many factors to coherently mention, because like everything Jodorowsky has created (not only his films, but his books, graphic novels and poems), it is an experience that needs to be felt and adored. Yet, I still feel so enthralled by the pure excellence of this masterpiece, I cannot help but gush over every small detail – and I fear that I will leave something out, but when it comes to a film as complex and nuanced as Endless Poetry, it is impossible to explain everything, just like it is impossible to accurately explain an emotion – perhaps it isn’t enough to call Endless Poetry an experience – rather, one should call it a montage of emotions, pure and honest. Once you understand that this film is something very different, you can begin to grasp exactly why this is a work of sheer genius.

It has become a common statement to refer to “the magic of the movies” – and that is very true. It is the exact reason that I fell in love with cinema, because there is something magical about them. There is a certain mystique about being transported into another world, and becoming part of a story by being immersed in the experience. Yet, how does one go about coming to terms with the fact that they have experienced literal, palpable magic when it happens to them? I have rarely been as mesmerized as I was in Endless Poetry, which is honestly a film that contains, at its core, the essence of literal magic. This isn’t a film made for entertainment, or to be studied and analyzed. It is a film that was made to provide genuine magic into the world. It is a film with the intention of spreading hope, joy and love into a world that is otherwise filled with hate and tragedy.

This is not a normal film. It is far from a conventional film in almost every regard. In fact, I find it difficult to think of Endless Poetry in terms of any other film, with the exception of it’s predecessor, The Dance of Reality. How is it possible to review Endless Poetry as I do every other film? It is nearly impossible, because it is a film incomparable to anything else. It is like comparing T.S. Eliot’s poetry to a school textbook, or Picasso’s paintings to a child’s doodles – it just isn’t possible. It is precisely this fact that makes Endless Poetry such an extraordinary piece of cinema – the manner in which Jodorowsky subverts every notion about cinema, creating something entirely new, building upon the well-worn techniques of cinema, while simultaneously destroying them, that makes him a genius – not a cinematic genius, not an artistic genius – just a genius, to be compared with the greatest thinkers and creators to ever live. Perhaps it is a bit hyperbolic to place this kind of praise on Jodorowsky, and even a die-hard Jodorowsky admirer such as myself (before watching Endless Poetry) would have scoffed at such high praise, yet if there was a chance to prove the sheer ability of the artistic mind to create something so new, it was certainly this. To call Jodorowsky one of the greatest artists to ever live is extraordinarily high praise, and a complete understatement. However, I have to endeavour to put my overly enthusiastic adoration of this film aside for just a moment, and view it not as a historical piece of art that will be used to define humanity, but as a film.

The Dance of Reality ended with Alejandro, his father Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky) and mother Sara (Pamela Flores) leaving their small Chilean town of Tocapilla and moving away, to start a new chapter. It ends with a retrospective of Alejandro’s life over those years, and the film takes an almost Janus-like approach to the idea of a biographical film – looking back at the past and the lessons one has learned through experiences, while also looking forward to the uncertainty that the future holds. Endless Poetry picks up right near where The Dance of Reality ended, with Alejandro now settled somewhere else with his family, but beginning the process of becoming even more of the recognizable figure we know, continuing his metamorphosis into the artist that would come to be known as the great Alejandro Jodorowsky. Endless Poetry, like The Dance of Reality, takes the shape of a künstlerroman, and much like the most highly influential “coming of age of the artist” story ever written, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Endless Poetry shows the trials and tribulations of the author, through the author’s own eyes. His biases, his beliefs and his memories are all displayed, perhaps not entirely clearly, but in a way that is accurate to the artist himself. Endless Poetry is a far more meaningful film than many of its kinds, and it even rises above its predecessor. It takes the approach of showing Jodorowsky’s transition from adolescent to adult, showing us how Jodorowsky unshackles himself from the parts of his life that limited him – his family, his country and in a way, himself. It isn’t a simple task to show such a complex development, especially when it is such a personal story – yet, Jodorowsky takes absolute joy in telling the story.

One of the most charming aspects of Jodorowsky’s films is how they are often family affairs – many of his films include his family, particularly his sons, in some way or the other. His son Brontis was in El Topo as a boy, and his other son Axel, played the lead in Santa Sangre. However, The Dance of Reality brought it even closer to home, as various of Jodorowsky’s family is involved – all three of his sons, Axel (going as Cristobal), Adan and Brontis are involved. Jeremias Herskovits plays the teenage Jodorowsky, and somehow the internet seems to be unable to come to the conclusion as to whether or not he is Jodorowsky’s grandson. Either way, he bears a striking resemblance to the auteur, and embodies his teenage artistic angst. Endless Poetry shows the transition from teenager to adult, and Adan Jodorowsky plays his father for much of the film. I have been aware of Adan for a few years, mostly as a musician, where he goes by the moniker Adanowsky. I was so impressed with what he did here – he managed to channel his father perfectly, and not only does he do a fantastic job of playing the main character in this film and doing the story the justice it deserves, he also gives a truly extraordinary cinematic performance. It is a complex, very demanding role to play, and I expect its even more difficult for Adan to play his father. However, he is absolutely mesmerizing and finds such nuance in this role.

Brontis Jodorowsky gave one of the most extraordinary performances of the year in The Dance of Reality, and he returns here and once again knocks it out of the park. He may have a much smaller role than in the first one (but understandably, The Dance of Reality was about a father-son relationship, whereas Endless Poetry is about Alejandro’s growth into an artist) – yet his performance as Jaime is ultimately so impressive and complex. He is so good, I often wondered if Alejandro was more interested in how he portrayed his father in this film rather than how he portrayed himself. Brontis Jodorowsky is such a wickedly talented actor, and I really want to explore other films that he has done. Pamela Flores was stunning in the first film as Alejandro’s conflicted mother – but she is given even more to do here, and playing dual roles, reprising Sara and playing Alejandro’s muse Stella Díaz Varín, she once again brings out true emotional resonance. The cast is filled with standouts, each one given interesting characters to work with, many of them playing real-life figures, which are delightful nods to those that know about the Chilean arts and literature scenes of the period, and a wonderful introduction to these people for those who were not. I have to say that Endless Poetry opened my eyes up to some more obscure poets that I have been so delighted to research since. The cast is very strong, and as an ensemble, they work incredibly well together.

Like all great filmmakers, Jodorowsky has his distinctive style – and it has never been used more brilliantly than in Endless Poetry. Jodorowsky is one man that we can hold accountable for the development of surrealism, and alongside David Lynch, he brought it into the current cinematic age. However, he is a polar opposite to Lynch, with his films still being equally oddball and strange, but also far more hopeful and optimistic. Endless Poetry is a film with a multitude of sad moments, but each and every scene in this film is made to look as beautiful as possible – the bright colours, quirky costumes and impeccable design both serves to elevate the often joyful nature of this film, while still playing to the nostalgia and melancholy that lingers throughout Endless Poetry. It isn’t surprising that this film was photographed by Christopher Doyle, a cinematographer far too underrated, especially considering how he has branched out as a filmmaker to several countries and continents, bringing something new to every film he is a part of. Taking the reigns from Jean-Marie Dreujou (who photographed The Dance of Reality), Doyle works incredible closely in crafting Jodorowsky’s unique vision into something palpable. I know I am hammering in this theme of cinematography a bit strongly, but believe me when I say that Endless Poetry is a film where you really are thrown into this story, and a major part of that is through this film’s visual aesthetic. It is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen – each moment is impeccably composed, and I was in constant awe of the sheer beauty of this film. An absolute marvel on a technical front, and Jodorowsky and Doyle collaborated perfectly, bringing something truly special to this film.

Yet, there is something else about this film that makes it so magical – how real it is. The fact that this is a true story, and is basically Jodorowsky re-telling his own experiences through his own unique vision, is precisely what makes Endless Poetry such a beautiful film. Yet, the true triumph of this film is not the way in which Jodorowsky shows his metamorphosis into an artist, but rather his development into a man. The final moments of this film, where Jaime chases after his son as he is leaving for Paris, where there is a bitter confrontation where the nature of their rocky relationship is explored, is one of the most heartwrenching moments in cinema history. To see the real-life Jodorowsky stand between his two sons and lament about the nature of a father-son relationship speaks directly to one’s soul. It is in this moment when the audience realizes just how important this film is – it isn’t simply for Jodorowsky to exercise his artistic desires, but also a way for him to directly address his past, and rectify the mistakes he made. It is something so deeply personal and honest, and the brutal nature of how Jodorowsky speaks directly about his own thoughts and regrets makes this something truly extraordinary. There is no logical way to explain how beautiful and poignant such a moment is, but Endless Poetry is filled with them. Anytime an artist creates something so personal, allowing the audience into their pasts, is truly an otherworldly experience.

When I was around 13-years-old, I watched The Searchers for the first time – and immediately, I found an old video camera and attempted to remake it on an non-existent budget, just for one. It wasn’t because I thought I could do it better, or because I thought it was something that needed to be remade – it was the fact that through watching that magnificent piece of cinema, I was inspired to create something. There are very few filmmakers that make me lust to create in the same way after experiencing their work – there are many that excite me and make me want to become a filmmaker, but very few that actually force me to want to get up immediately after seeing their film and create something. Alejandro Jodorowsky may be the only one, in fact. After seeing his films or reading anything he has written, I always want to write, spilling my thoughts and emotions into something as beautiful as his films or poems. I have been a fan of Jodorowsky’s for many years now, but there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t implement something he has said or done into my everyday life – whether it be imparting an interesting idea, or reassuring myself with one of his wonderfully motivational thoughts, or quoting from his endless supply of wisdom. Endless Poetry just motivated me to do what I feel needs to be done.

It may be odd to bring such a personal connection to a film, but I truly feel like Jodorowsky has inspired me to embrace the artist within, acknowledging my own heart of a poet and creating something from nothing the captures the zeitgeist of the moment I am in. I wouldn’t be surprised if others have this response as well – and I believe that a truly important artist is one that not only entertains or invokes thought or emotion, but also inspires others to go out and create. To call Jodorowsky an inspiration is quite an understatement – he is a figure that invokes the idea of an individual following their heart and creating something beautiful, even if it is just an interesting, full life of experiences, both joyful and tragic. Jodorowsky’s two autobiographical films are not only great pieces of cinema – they are roadmaps to living an interesting life, where anything is possible if you just take a risk. Jodorowsky deserves to be an artistic icon simply for being such an inspiring figure to aspiring artists, and essentially anyone who feels out of place in his or her circumstances.

It goes without saying that Endless Poetry is a perfect film. There is not a single flaw in this entire film. It is the perfect length, and it never once drags, nor does it feel too brief. The cast is absolutely wonderful, led by the magnificent Adan Jodorowsky who perfectly captures the essence of his father, as does Brontis Jodorowsky in his portrayal of his complicated grandfather. I may be slightly delusional, or rather the impact of Endless Poetry hasn’t quite reached its peak yet, but it is a film that will go down as one of the greatest ever made, mainly because it combines vision and passion with truly innovative and creative filmmaking. Jodorowsky is a true artist, and someone who will certainly find his way into the canon of truly great artists, because there is quite simply no one like him. He has made such an impact on my life through his various artistic endeavours, and Endless Poetry just represented a collision of everything I adore about him and his art. Endless Poetry is a film that can’t be described properly in words. It is an emotional experience that should be seen by absolutely everyone, and will undoubtedly come to be known as a major work of art. I used to think a perfect film doesn’t exist, but that was before I saw Endless Poetry, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t ever see a better film. Once again, this may seem like a massive exaggeration, but Endless Poetry is really that good. Watch it, it is worth every second. Endless Poetry doesn’t apply to the word “masterpiece” – it defines it.

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