In one of the freakiest scenes in Alejandro Jodorowsky's autobiographical Endless Poetry, two robbers receive a vicious beating. They've just tried to steal from a store in Chile run by the deranged, mustachioed Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, the director's son). Rather than bother to alert the police, Jaime repeatedly kicks one thief, tears off the other's clothes and insists that his son Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) join him in administering his barbaric brand of "justice."
It's the kind of scene that could make you squirm and retch. Yet even in its grimmest moments, Endless Poetry is delightful. By combining hallucinogenic images with joyously hyperbolic performances, Jodorowsky has made a film that is not only blackly funny, but above all, beautiful in its fearless embrace of the bizarre.
Centered in the film's whirl of strangeness is Alejandro, a budding poet growing up in the 1940s. The film recounts parts of his traumatic childhood, but Endless Poetry mostly focuses on his early adulthood, when he's played by Adan Jodorowsky (another son of the director) and enjoys a turbulent romance with a fellow poet named Stella (in an Oedipal twist, she's played by Pamela Flores, who also plays Alejandro's mother).
Endless Poetry is also about Alejandro's coming of age. The bones of that story—friendship, family mayhem, rivalry—echo biopics like Walk the Line. He may be treading familiar ground, but Jodorowsky's fusion of wit and weirdness makes it irresistible. Alejandro's mother literally sings dialogue like an opera star, masked figures lurk in scenes like ghostly stagehands and Jaime's explosions of rage are so exaggerated that they're both horrifying and hilarious.
As Jaime, Brontis Jodorowsky gives the film's fiercest, wittiest performance, and you can feel the story's momentum sag whenever he's off-screen. Yet whether Endless Poetry is chronicling Alejandro's entertainingly ill-fated stint as a political protester or indulging in an unusually clever fart joke, it seizes your attention like a flamboyant ringmaster presiding over a circus that, despite being baffling, is a joy to behold.
CRITIC'S RATING: 3/4 stars.