Bardo: False Chronicle of a Fistful of Truths (2022). Daniel Gimenez Cacho as Silverio. Kr. Limbo Films, S. De RL de CV Courtesy of Netflix
Photo: Limbo Films/S. From RL de CV/Netflix / Limbo Films/S. By RL de CV/Netflix
There’s a moment in Bardo: False Chronicle of a Fistful of Truths when docu-fiction filmmaker Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) encounters a former colleague-turned-enemy who criticizes his latest project as overbearing, smug, and shallow. The same is true of Bardo itself, a film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu who is as committed to the artful, ostentatious pose as he is to contemplating the meaning of life.
Like a similar sequence in Iñárritu’s “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, the riposte addressed to Silverio is truly Iñárritu, forestalling his critics: a confident gesture in a sea of similar saves and jabs that mean nothing, or everything, dependent of the viewer’s tolerance for impeccably staged and filmed psychobabble.
In fact, the opening image of “Bardo” suggests that Iñárritu created “Birdman 2.0” as a man seen only as his shadow repeatedly flies over a barren desert landscape. This cosmic leapfrog game gives way to a hospital birth scene where the child that is born decides to stay in the womb. The next 2 1/2 hours unfolds as a series of random but thematically connected moments from Silverio’s life as he meditates on love, loss, Mexican national identity, and his own shortcomings in a world steeped in dream logic and a fetishistic allure Stunning is dominated by images for their own sake.
Clearly inspired by Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 and its followers (especially All That Jazz), Iñárritu creates a pageant of non-linear but indelible scenes, each meticulously conceived and superbly photographed by Darius Khondji. Silverio debates the Mexican-American War with the US Ambassador, while outside a fresh marching band plays in perfect formation, their military precision ending in a recreation of a 1968 student massacre.
Silverio attends an infotainment talk show, walks through a crowd of scantily clad dancers — Iñárritu isn’t averse to eating his cheesecake either — where he’s supposed to talk about his latest film, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. Then he’s home, flirting with his wife (Griselda Siciliani), harboring his most haunting memories and regrets, and finally feuding with his teenage son Lorenzo (Íker Sánchez Solano) over hypocrisy and Mexican romance while the sunny dining room grows ever darker than a rainstorm begins outside. It all means something deep, but what exactly?
Since his 2000 breakthrough with Amores Perros, Iñárritu has established himself as a technical master, so it should come as no surprise that these scenes and many others are executed with bravura confidence and visual dynamism. But the look-at-me tricks and recurring motifs can’t replace a narrative that, once brought into focus, seems like listening to someone repeat their dreams in stupefying detail.
Rated R: Strong language throughout, strong sexual elements and graphic nudity.
Duration: 159 minutes
: Playing at iPic, Houston; opens December 18th at 24 Regal Greenway Grand Palace, Houston
*** (of 5)
The title “Bardo” points to the state between life and death, the threshold of being here-but-not-here in which Silverio seems to float. The question is if he’ll hurtle into the afterlife or reach for another bite apple. This literal question of life and death is entangled in clichéd encounters with figures from Silverio’s past and vaguely smug babble about the rewards of wealth, ambition, artistic respect and public acclaim.
After all, this is a film where the protagonist can utter lines like “success was my biggest failure” and expect to be taken seriously – just before another character describes life as just “a short series of meaningless events”. Well. Bardo seems to be Iñárritu’s deeply personal – if hermetic – attempt to understand the conflicting and unresolved impulses that have animated his life and art over the past two decades, as he progressed from promising aspiring filmmaker to Oscar-winning filmmaker Superstar developed. In its most promising moments, the film suggests a healthy dose of self-doubt; At its most grandiose, it looks like someone getting high off their own stash.
That may be fitting for a film that, no matter where it lands, insists on occupying a borderline space: between past and present, breathtaking and mundane, stupid and clever. It’s all of that and none of that, just the way “Bardo” should be.