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Cult directors give poetry a voice in Cannes

Published : May 21, 2016, 7:09 am IST
Updated : May 21, 2016, 7:09 am IST

Two cult figures of contemporary world cinema — Chile’s 87-year-old Alejandro Jodorowsky and American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch — have added a large dash of colour and poetry to the Cannes palette this y

Two cult figures of contemporary world cinema — Chile’s 87-year-old Alejandro Jodorowsky and American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch — have added a large dash of colour and poetry to the Cannes palette this year.

The two directors, one known for his cinematic flights of fancy, the other for his steadfast minimalism, have delivered their most accessible works to date, which obviously is the reason why they have become talking points in the ongoing 69th Cannes Film Festival.

Jodorowsky’s latest film Endless Poetry, the second of five proposed creative memoirs which kicked off in 2013 with The Dance of Reality, tracks the cinema savant’s formative years in 1940s and 1950s Santiago, where the foundation of his bohemian imagination was laid.

Endless Poetry, which is part of the Directors’ Fortnight, is an autobiographical film of transcendental beauty that goes all out to celebrate poetry in a fractious world that is dangerously devoid of poetry.

Not surprisingly, Jodorowsky does not hold back in conjuring up a backdrop that delights and excites in equal measure. He packs his film with midgets, clowns and buxom women of the night who expose him to a universe far removed from the one that his father has in mind for him.

The lead character is played by the director’s youngest son, Adan Jodorowsky, as a wide-eyed, ever-eager-to-learn-and-absorb youngster who seeks freedom at all cost. His struggle and its eventual outcome have a strong emotional resonance, making Endless Poetry a truly memorable cinematic experience.

In what can only be described as an inimitable Jodorowsky touch, the hero’s overbearing father spits abuses at him at every opportunity, while his doting mother, who can only watch her husband ride roughshod over her son, communicates only through the means of operatic songs.

Jarmusch’s Paterson is unlike the phantasmagoric Endless Poetry but it, too, sets out to discover magic in the ordinariness of the life of a New Jersey transit bus driver named Paterson who lives in Paterson, the city of the modernist poet William Carlos Williams.

Played by Adam Driver with straight-faced earnestness, Paterson writes poetry in his free time. He is egged on by his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). But Laura, a cupcake chef with a fetish for black and white patterns, has her own dream — she wants to be country singer.

There is little friction in their life except for the occasional growls one hears from the family’s British bulldog Marvin. In Jarmusch’s quirky world, the pooch assumes great centrality, triggering a crisis that threatens to crush Paterson’s spirit.

Paterson jots down lines of verse in a secret notebook and his wife exhorts him to make photocopies of the pages of the diary so that his words can reach the world.

Paterson is competing for the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or, and is being seen as a frontrunner by most critics covering Cannes.

Jarmusch focuses on the daily routine of the taciturn couple. Paterson wakes up a little after six every morning and sets out for work. In the evening, he takes Marvin out for a walk, leashes the dog to a post, and spends time in the local bar. On the surface, their existence is as commonplace as commonplace can be.

In true Jarmusch fashion, the film is strewn with details that remain unexplained, like the repeated sightings of twins or the pet dog’s rising unease with the neglect that he suffers at the hands of his lost-in-his-thoughts master.

Another film on the Croisette that makes direct reference to poetry is Neruda, Chilean maverick Pablo Larrain’s period drama set in the immediate aftermath of World War II. While the focus is on the titular character — poet and legislator Pablo Neruda, who gets into the crosshairs of the government of the day.

A detective played with great flair by Gael Garcia Bernal is deployed to investigate the activities of the high-profile dissident. Neruda, which, like Endless Poetry, is in the parallel Directors’ Fortnight. It is among the best-reviewed films in this edition of Cannes.

Saibal Chatterjee is a National Award-winning film critic and writer based in New Delhi