Last year, the demotion from the Cannes Official Competition of customary contenders such as Arnaud Desplechin (My Golden Days) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Cemetery of Splendour) caused quite a racket, which was certainly fair but raises the question: why is there not a similar wave of discontent arising for a filmmaker like Alejandro Jodorowsky, who seems confined within the walls of the Directors’ Fortnight selection? His last two movies, La danza de la realidad in 2013 and now Poesia sin fin, have been shown in this parallel section of the festival, even though they are the work of a talented, imaginative, unique and deeply cinematographic director. Poesia sin fin is the follow-up to La danza de la realidad in the most literal way, as it starts where its predecessor ended: the departure of the young Alejandro Jodorowsky and his parents from their hometown Tocopilla, in order to live in Chile’s capital, Santiago. There, we will witness the coming-of-age story of Alejandro in the 1940s, through the encounters he makes in the rebellious artistic scene of the city, as a teenager and then a young adult.
On paper Poesia sin fin is half biopic, half period film, but both these movie genres are swept away by the artistic craving and vision of its maker. Jodorowsky devotedly carries out the saying that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, with the camera being his eye, enabling him to put on the screen his perception of the world and his recollection of the past, both idealistic and beautiful. Hence, there are in Poesia sin fin two Alejandro Jodorowskys (or even three, as the director sometimes appears in person on screen to narrate the critical transitions in his young self’s life): the one we follow in the story, and the one who is visually manipulating the way we see the story unfold. At one point, the Jodorowsky of yesterday says his goal is to “change the real city for an imaginary one”, which is exactly what the Jodorowsky of today does in his filmmaking. There is not a single shot in Poesia sin fin where the bland veracity of facts or locations is not transfigured by how Jodorowsky films them with his camera, which serves as a true “magic lantern”. The metamorphosis can take a forthrightly theatrical form (when the director conceals the modern building facades of his childhood street under giant photographs of what they looked like back then, or when he puts men dressed entirely in black in the corners of the sets to take from the actors’ hands props which are not needed anymore), as well as be the result of a much more elaborate and flamboyant creative process. Visions of bedrooms and cafés, parties and carnivals seem to emerge from another world operated by a different set of rules, ensuring that the artistic edge of life matters more than the efficient one.
Throughout his life Jodorowsky never lost faith in this belief that the magic of art, here taking the appearance of cinema, has the capacity to genuinely transform human existence. In Poesia sin fin this leads to moments where art straightforwardly takes over life, either in a visual or narrative way: for example, when Alejandro visits a poet who covers the walls, the floor, the ceiling of the room he resides in with his verses, or when the muse of a poet whom Alejandro admires (Nicanor Parra) becomes his own muse, and replicates with him the same kind of relation Parra wrote about in his work. Still, as Jodorowsky has himself paid a harsh price to learn, there are some things in life that art cannot overcome. Art is helpless against the rebuttal of unreceptive people, who remain oblivious to its voice and fast asleep even when Alejandro yells “Wake up!” to their faces, but nevertheless rise as one when they hear the rudimentary call of arms from fascism (embodied in the movie by General Carlos Ibáñez, whose rise to power will be one of the reasons leading Jodorowsky to his exile to France). On an individual level, art cannot undo the demise of love, but only alleviate it. Poesia sin fin stresses this shortcoming, when life proves itself superior to art, in a bittersweet manner which culminates in a scene where a man and a woman express through puppets representing themselves the heartbreak they are unable to communicate with words. The scene does not mend what is lost, but creates enough beauty to move us to tears and make us feel love in a pure and deep form. The same occurs at the conclusion of the movie, where Jodorowsky finds a way to make peace with his inconsiderate father, something he was never able to accomplish in real life. Here he does it through the power of cinema, obviously, and in a form that demonstrates that art truly can conquer life, even though it does so in time and in shapes impossible to foresee.