Inspiration comes in unpredictable forms. At 88 years old, legendary surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky is enjoying a late-career surge unique in the history of film, but it's a renewal largely born of frustration. Unable to find financial backers for his decidedly noncommercial work, the auteur behind early-'70s arthouse classics including El Topo and The Holy Mountain went 23 years without making a film before the release of 2013's autobiographical The Dance of Reality.
Jodorowsky wrote innovative graphic novels (among other projects) during his decades away from film. As demonstrated by The Dance of Reality and its sequel of sorts, Endless Poetry, Jodorowsky seems to have elevated his artistry by developing all those movie projects he never got to finish. His films as an octogenarian writer-director are the most sophisticated and relatable in his entire body of work. No filmmaker has ever caught a second wind so late in a celebrated career.
As Endless Poetry begins, a teenage Jodorowsky and his parents (who were the primary focus of Dance of Reality, with the director depicted as a young boy) depart the small Chilean coastal town of Tocopilla for the capital city of Santiago. To the endless displeasure of his father Jaime, the young Jodorowsky connects with a bohemian crowd and finds his calling as a poet.
The film portrays his formative years as an artist through his personal relationships with famed Chilean writers including Enrique Lihn, Stella Diaz Varin and Nicanor Parra, along with his ongoing family drama. It was shot in the neighborhoods in which Jodorowsky grew up and covers his life until he moved to Paris in his early 20s.
For his late-career films, Jodorowsky has developed a style he calls "psychomagic." The jarring images and rough-hewn quality of his early films have been replaced with something more akin to literary magical realism. Surprising visual elements are well-integrated into individual scenes and enhance their meanings.
It's a heightened version of reality in which, for example, Jodorowsky's mother Sara (Pamela Flores) is the only character to sing her dialogue, as if she lives in a musical only she can see and hear. This seems perfectly normal in the larger context of the film. The director's sharp sense of humor and satirical bent are on full display even as he depicts his own early life.
Jodorowsky adds depth to his examination of a dysfunctional family and its effects on his life as an artist by casting two of his sons (both accomplished actors) as his young-adult self (Adan Jodorowsky) and his father (Brontis Jodorowsky). Calling upon his sons to help explore the broken bonds with his long-dead father may seem a carnivalesque hall of mirrors, but it is a warm and gratifying one.
The real Jodorowsky pops up periodically to counsel his younger self and exhort him to action. The message is simple: Break free of the chains that bind you and live life to the fullest.
In recent interviews, the director has revealed plans to extend his cinematic autobiography with three additional films. Even at his advanced age, the vigor and imagination of Jodorowsky's recent work puts much younger filmmakers to shame. Don't bet against him.