Adan Jodorowsky, center, in Endless Poetry (ABKO Films)

 Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of a relatively handful of artists who has become a genre unto himself. I could attempt to classify his latest film as a period biopic (or in this case, autobiopic, since the director narrates and acts as an onscreen tour guide) in which he re-creates his past through a particularly vivid and visually outrageous pastiche of moods and characters. But that wouldn’t be fair to what Jodorowsky accomplishes here, which is a deeply emotional film that is more focused than its predecessor, The Dance of Reality, and manages to bring its many wild, outsider characters together under one colorful, surreal world.

It’s tricky to describe because Jodorowsky is both so literal and so out-there in how he depicts the time period of the late 1940’s to the early/mid-’50s in his home country of Chile. It helps if one has seen Dance, as it is a continuation of that story. (Reportedly, Jodorowsky, now 88, has plans to do more films about his life after this.) His son Brontis once again plays Jodorwsky’s strict, taciturn shop owner father, Jaime, and Pamela Flores his mother, Sarah (who, once again, I must note, sings every line of her dialog as if she’s living the great, tragic opera that is her life).

This storyline jumps ahead a few years after the family has moved 2.000 kilometers away from Alejandro’s home town of Tocopilla to a working-class neighborhood in Santiago. He’s now a gawky teen, dealing with burgeoning sexual feelings. (Jaime questions if Alejandro is gay since, you know, the boy wants to become a poet instead of a doctor.) Meanwhile a cousin, who is gay, tries to get Alejandro to come out. As it turns out, Alejandro is straight, and in an uncomfortable, darkly funny scene, Alejandro becomes jubilant after kissing his cousin, realizing that he felt nothing.

The story then jumps years ahead when Alejandro is a young man, now played by the director’s son Adan, who was also in Dance but as a different character. Unlike in Dance, which made the father Jaime as much, if not more at times, a lead character as the son, this is squarely Alejandro’s story as he tries to negotiate what his life and passions are going to be. It doesn’t have a straight through line sort of plot—few Jodorowsky films are that simple—but instead it’s more episodic, like a collection of memories.

A major subplot occurs with the arrival of a woman who is buxom, magenta-haired (it’s clearly, and intentionally, a wig from a cheap costume store), and the opposite of Alejandro’s somewhat shy young man. In a rather ingenious if provocative touch, Stella Díaz, the name of a real-life poet, is played by the same actress who appears as Alejandro’s mother (they are very different characters; you may do a double take at first). She’s fiery, loud, and sexually aggressive. How they meet, in a highly stylized bar with elegant sleepwalking waiters, is a wonderful romantic/comic set piece. (To heighten the sense of the theatrical and surreal in this and other scenes, Jodorowsky has actors-as-stagehands in full black body suits taking and giving props from/to the actors.)

As Alejandro and Stella change, he becomes more assertive and she less so, and the two drift apart. She will remain a virgin, despite making herself available to him in other ways, as she is waiting for, um, God to come down from the mountains to deflower her. The fact that it’s the same actress as the mother is one thing, but it’s also another that Adan is also stark naked in scenes with her as well as in others; not since Dario Argento has a filmmaker had his offspring strip down for such uncompromising situations—and it’s no big deal, really.

This portrait of a poet is told through a filmmaker who has spent the larger part of his life as a surreal showman (Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre are, if nothing else, biting, anarchic comedies, and dark visions of enlightenment and madness), and so it’s not unusual here when, say, Alejandro meets an artist who literally pours buckets of paint all over his body as if it’s life-or-death choice to do so.

At the same time, Jodorowsky doesn’t portray himself as a totally sympathetic person. At one point, he sleeps with the girlfriend of his best friend and fellow poet-in-collaboration, Enrique, another real-life Chilean literary figure. (She’s a little person, who Jodorowsky simply films without a single shred of mockery; on the contrary, she is one of the deepest characters in the movie.) Yet he also shows his vulnerability along with his burgeoning anarchic spirit in many scenes of Alejandro and his fellow artists enjoying life and becoming fully immersed in uncanny artistic experiments. My favorite example is when Alejandro and Enrique (Leando Taub) decide, just for the hell of it, to walk in a straight line through the city: this includes, naturally, walking on top of trucks, through a stranger’s home and a parking lot, chased by angry dogs.

Jodorowsky doesn’t shy away from the painful moments—he highlights them as they were part of his own growth. As if the Fellini comparison could be missed, Alejandro even briefly becomes a clown. But what impresses me so greatly is that there is so much time spent with young Alejandro and his group of artist friends (painters, actors, etc.) and that they have so much fun, in a carefree sense.

Perhaps Jodorowsky, thinking in case this is his final opportunity to tell his story (just in case), brings closure to the story of himself and his father, Jaime. (Brontis plays the scene so nakedly, not physically this time, that it’s shocking.) One expects carnivalesque and bizarre caricatures and brilliant color schemes and daring feats of cinematic awe in Jodorowsky’s films, and we get plenty of that in Endless Poetry. What I didn’t expect was how much of his soul was laid bare here. Where else will you see movies like this today?

Written, Produced and Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Released by ABKO Films
Spanish with English subtitles
Chile/UK/France. 128 min. Not rated
With Adan Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Leandro Taub, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jeremias Herskovits, and Julia Avendaño