BARDO, FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDLING OF TRUTHS, Pretentious but oh so pretty
Seven years have passed since Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu last filmed the epic western The ghostwhich earned him his second consecutive Best Director Oscar after winning for birdman Last year. Considering the subject of his latest work, Bardo, false chronicle of a handful of truths, the 59-year-old was reeling from some sort of existential crisis. This rambling and self-indulgent three-hour odyssey stars Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho (Chronos, We are what we are) as a celebrated journalist and documentary filmmaker who arrives at a transformative midlife crossroads on the eve of accepting a prestigious international award.
Recalls by the tone and the narrative fluidity of Paolo Sorrentino The great beautywhich itself recalled the surrealist masterpieces of Federico Fellini, bardo unfolds like a semi-autobiographical rumination, ripe with anguish and introspection. Alternately funny, frustrating, absurd and sincere, bardo sees the filmmaker attempt to address his critics, his career, his identity, as well as explore the tangled and traumatic relationship between his homeland of Mexico and its unruly neighbor to the north.
While certainly more of an experiential offering than a tightly constructed narrative, Iñárritu’s film’s thin line sees Silverio Gama (Cacho) return to Mexico after many years living in the United States. While the intelligentsia are proud of his accomplishments, including that he is about to receive an award that has never been given to a Latino before, but there is simmering frustration that he has turned the back to Mexico in order to achieve this position of importance. He is seeking an interview with the American president, when Amazon is trying to buy the Mexican state of Baha California. The American ambassador offers to reunite the two men, but the United States wants Gama’s vocal support in return.
At home, Gama’s life is also unstable. His children grew up in the United States, which they are grateful for, while acknowledging that their immigration status has been a burden. Gama is also haunted by the death of his third son, Mateo, just hours after he was born. His wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani) can’t wait for them to try again, but – in some of the film’s most surreal sequences – Gama still has visions of baby Mateo during their most intimate moments.
The film is full of these drifts in dreamlike fantasy, as a myriad of inner demons and distractions struggle for attention and reconciliation in Gama’s head. Doing this on screen, Iñárritu spins a procession of vivid images, carnivalesque settings and disorienting leaps through time and space. This is where cinematographer Darius Khondji steps in to dazzle audiences with some of the year’s most intricate set-ups and startling images. It’s no small tragedy that most viewers will only be able to experience bardo on Netflix, because the film is a visual triumph that deserves to be seen as big as possible, even – or perhaps, especially – in times when its lens veers away from its director.
From the architecture-adorned streets of Mexico City to the shimmering beaches of its northwest coast, Mexico is absolutely stunning. However, it’s the unique long takes – of which there are many – when these craftsmen really show their skills. Whether weaving through the circular hallways of Gama’s home or following him through the sweaty crowd of revelers on a heady welcome party, Iñárritu dazzles with his technical prowess, while Khondji shows more than able to fill the shoes vacated by the three-time Oscar winner. Emmanuel Lubezki.
bardo tackles so many topics, seemingly at random, in an ever-changing stream of consciousness, that audiences are bound to be offended at some point, or tired of political debates, philosophical pontifications, or lengthy descriptions of family life worldly. Display bardo at home will only make the challenge that much more demanding, so if the opportunity arises to experience it on the big screen, interested parties should definitely go out of their way to do so.
Ultimately, the enjoyment of Iñárritu’s heavy indulgence will be influenced by the baggage viewers bring to it. A thrilling and tense sensation race, it is certainly not. Those willing to step up a gear, settle in, and let the experience wash over you will see one of the most accomplished filmmakers working today unload a lifetime of personal grievances and insecurities, written in big for the whole world to see, in a heady parade of cinematic bombast.
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