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SIFF ADVANCE: Endless Poetry - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
SIFF ADVANCE: Endless Poetry
Directing: C+
Acting: C
Writing: C
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-
Production Design: B+

Endless Poetry is a phrase with mixed messages if there ever was one, and the film of the same title lives up to that notion. Given how exhausting it is to watch, with writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky taking the idea of a "visual feast" to extreme lengths, 128 minutes is way too long. I might have loved this if it only lasted ninety minutes.

Also, this is yet another of those movies that film snobs are apt to love, which explains the (thus far) rave reviews and the tendency of film festival audiences to love it, yet it is guaranteed never to find a large, mainstream audience. That's how I'm rationalizing my nearly complete aversion to this movie, anyway. I just could not get into it, not from the very beginning, and by the end I was desperate for it to be over.

Endless, indeed. It's just too much. The story is ostensibly an autobiographical look at the director's earliest years as a Chilean artist breaking free of constraints, but it's presented as cinema-as-performance-art, so overt that coherence gets lost in the mix. To say it's hyper-stylized would be an understatement. There's not much in the way of special effects, the way you might tend to expect from such a movie; it's mostly in the production design. So much effort went into this production it's almost a surprise the 88-year-old Jorodowsky is still alive.

The story is uncomfortably violent almost at once. The young Jorodowsky (and effectively awkward Jeremias Herskovits) is encouraged by his strict shopkeeper father to kick the shit out of a thief. Moments later, we meet Jorodowsky's mother (Pamela Flores), who literally sings every one of her lines like an opera singer, but she is evidently the sole character who thinks she's in a musical.

We are clearly meant to see Alejandro as a sensitive soul, of the sort whose mother is empathetic but yielding to his domineering father, who wants no part of his son being a poet, which is all his son wants to be. And here we get into elements of the production that I found most problematic, where one can rationalize offensiveness in the context of time (1940s) and place (Chile), but it can be difficult to know where to draw the line. For instance, Alejandro's insistence that all "artists" are "faggots." This word -- subtitled, in Spanish -- is used several times, occasionally for semi-comic effect. An adolescent Alejandro is actually open to his gay cousin offering him a kiss, but when he finds he feels nothing, he shouts for joy: "See, father, I told you I'm not a faggot!" Said cousin is emotionally unstable, and it's hard to say whether his character is treated sympathetically or not -- mostly because everything here is presented in such a heightened, stylized manner. There are real, serious issues at stake here, and they get lost in the "artiness" of it all.

Potentially even more problematic is the significant use of little people in the cast, several roles, all of them walking the line between artistic statement and exploitation -- the latter of which sometimes feels uncomfortably close to "circus-freak" exhibition that formed the basis of earliest stereotypes. Certainly there were different attitudes about all these things in the forties, and likely even more so in far-off (to Americans) places like Chile, so one could make a contextual argument, I suppose. Except it never quite feels like the characters get the representation they deserve -- this story isn't about them, after all; it's about how they provide window dressing to Alejandro's story.

It's entirely possible that I could watch Endless Poetry on another day and have a completely different appreciation or it. I'm willing to admit that. It's that kind of movie, really -- far more concerned with art than with story, it's widely open to interpretation. It just happened not to speak to me, at any point, on any level. When this movie ended, I could feel nothing but relief that I could finally go home and go to bed.

A visual feast of an incoherent story is ENDLESS POETRY.

Overall: C+
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