I wonder what I would make of this if I was Chilean. There are moments when Jodorowsky’s vision of Santiago has echoes of Larrain’s Tony Manero, or even Patricio Kaulen’s Largo Viaje, but these moments are fleeting. Pinochet gets some mock-ironic treatment at the end, but it’s all a little arch.
To return to the beginning, and why should a film be judged according to geography? Jodorowsky is an acclaimed director, whose cinematic heritage includes Cocteau, Dali and Fellini. As well as containing his trademark surreal flavour, Endless Poetry is also an autobiographical work, which stars his son. Adan, as the filmmaker himself. It narrates the story of his young life in Chile, before emigrating to Paris; his struggle to become a poet and his bohemian adventures. He befriends the poets Enrique Lihn, Stella Díaz Varín, Nicanor Parra, and breaks free from his family. It’s refreshing to see film used as an autobiographical medium. It might occur on a clandestine level, but rarely explicitly. (The Terence Davies trilogy comes to mind) Much of the world’s great literature is autobiographical. The process of creating an autobiographical text involves a self-conscious incorporation of the learning accrued by the author; something they then go on to share with the reader. There’s no reason film shouldn’t do this too, and Jodorowsky makes a bold stab at it. He uses surrealist language to broaden the film’s scale. Some of the effects are beguiling. The opening sequence converts a rundown barrio of Santiago into the thriving working class district of his youth using the wonderful imagination of his art department, a sequence which signals a playful break with naturalism, exploring the frontiers of film’s capacity to incorporate dream and memory.
The narrative as such is episodic, revolving around the various personal relationships in young Jodorowsky’s development. Much of this is quixotic and stylised. Whenever the film tries to break though into a more authentic emotional register, it falls flat. This is partly because Adan Jodorowsky isn’t a great actor, but also because it seems to go against the film’s playfulness. At other times it feels as though the imagery is being employed for the sake of it, rather than from any dramatic need. The film’s big set-piece scene, a vast carnival sequence involving devils and skeletons, feels forced, as though there was money that needed spending. The director and his DOP (Chris Doyle) needed fireworks and this is what they came up with.
All of this makes for an uneven film. For all it’s moments of brilliance, it feels never quite grabs the viewer by the throat as it might have done. There’s a self-indulgence which doesn’t help the cause of this kind of much-needed aesthetic adventurism. Likewise, it feels, in the end, as though it’s a shame that the film doesn’t have more to say about the politics of its provenance. Much as Chileans might not care for a constant referencing of Bolaño, the comparison has relevance. Bolaño, like Jodorowsky, is a Chilean exile enamoured with the notion of the poet, to such an extent that his work includes real poets, just as Jodorowsky’s does. However, Bolaño, succeeds in ensuring that any flights of fancy always feel rooted in political realities. An investigation of this poetic phenomenon is also an investigation of the society the poet emerges from. Jodorowsky, by contrast, seems to have constructed something which floats free of its political origins. Endless Poetry ends up feeling too magical realist for its own good; for all its chutzpah it ends up reinforcing Latin American stereotypes without revealing their origins.