An Epic Venture of a Dreamload of Issues
DIRECTED BY ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU/SPANISH/2022
The current era of increasingly powerful visionary Mexican auteurs has been something of a dream for film fans. The three biggest- Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu- have charmed award show audiences with their friendship and challenged cinema goers with their boldly realized works. These three have demonstrated, to varying ends, that they can play the Hollywood game as well if not better than anyone, but seemingly effortlessly shift into brazen auteur territory. Deep-pocketed streaming services have been quick to facilitate the latter for all three directors. Netflix alone has enabled all of them, including Del Toro’s wonderful upcoming stop-motion-animated adaptation of Pinocchio. Before that, there was Cuarón’s 2018 Roma, an autobiopic as acclaimed as it was pricey to create. As for Iñárritu, his new epic, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (Bardo, falsa crónica de unas cuantas verdades), the showy director has gotten into this particular line of deeply personal and ridiculously expensive outings, seemingly taking on his two compatriots to see which can run Netflix up a tree the fastest. Per recent headlines of long-in-coming financial strife at the streaming giant, we dare say that he might we have done it.
Bardo is nothing short of a gargantuan undertaking of astonishingly limited appeal with a prohibitively long running time to boot. It is also the single best work by Iñárritu in quite some time, and by a wide margin. The Birdman and Revenant director seems to have somehow found his way to the inside of his inflated ego to cast this fevered, distorted stare outward- if only momentarily. Iñárritu channels no less than Federico Fellini’s inspired bouts of deeply personal condemnation that play out both oneirically and nationalistically. Numerous comparisons have already been made to Fellini’s classic 8 1/2, but that filmmaker’s own Roma, an untethered anthology of shifting mores of a once-mighty adopted hometown through the lens of a perhaps too mighty director, also demands inclusion in any Bardo breakdown.
Venerable Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho, bearing no small resemblance to Iñárritu, more than capably carries this untightly raveled exploration of a successful artist navigating his questioned commitment to his land of origin. He plays Silverio Gama, a celebrated journalist/documentarian. Journalist/documentarian? The occupation is no 1:1 comparison to Iñárritu, but to what degree does it really matter? Remember, in the also-introspective Birdman, Iñárritu placed his surrogate as an actor on the Broadway stage. Overlook for a moment that that film, upon further inspection, emerged as smugly systemically judgmental as The Revenant emerged as boisterously high-end adolescent proof-of-concept. Then add in that eventually, Silverio is openly referred to as “a filmmaker”- no doubt one of great and expansive means. No one talks that way about journalist/documentarians.
But then, Bardo is entirely operating via dream logic. Silverio spends much of the film going through vast, mysterious chambers (some piercing with lit neon, some dark like pre-dawn) with dozens of people doing odd activities or simply mulling about. He cuts a weird rug to a vocal-only track of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” (a song also featured in She Said, which opens in U.S. the same day as Bardo) and scales a mountain of human bodies in the dark. Doorways lead to places they shouldn’t and moments of desperation and even melancholy have an askew quality about them. Sometimes, it’s the rippling desert, with no other soul in sight. What does Charles Foster Kane (or an unnamed guy who looks and sounds like him) have to say about any of this? Never mind, the army is attacking… There are numerous scenes that stick in the memory afterwards, rendering Bardo a worthwhile venture for willing and adventurous viewers. There also seems to be an awful lot of wheel-spinning, but that’s just part of the psychological wallpaper being unrolled. (Reportedly, this 159-minute film is what’s left after Iñárritu opted to cut twenty minutes from the previous festival version).
Though almost crassly expensive and undeniably navel-gazy, Bardo wouldn’t resonate without its familial overcurrents. Silverio’s wife, Lucía (Griselda Siciliani) carries suppressed trauma of motherhood which the film creatively demonstrates time and again. Intimate moments turn awkwardly weird, sometimes witnessed by unwelcome eyes in their dreams within the dream. Siciliani is all-in and excellent in the role. Silverio and Lucía’s children (Ximena Lamadrid and Iker Sanchez Solano) feel the impact of their father’s attained grandiosity, something no reparations can mend. Eventually, we are able to tie specific meaning to Silverio’s sloshing around on a waterlogged metro.
Like Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Interstellar, Iñárritu, within a film no less large than his largest to date, seems to be dealing with his own guilt over how his filmmaking success has rendered him an absentee father. Also like Nolan, there’s no irony detectable. No one wins as many big-time American film awards as Iñárritu has without vigorously chasing after them. Only he can ever truly determine to what degree he’s sold out his Mexican roots for Hollywood prestige, but Bardo certainly seems to be a hefty reckoning. (Silverio is called on this again and again). The film’s unwieldy title, if it is to be trusted, tells us that this is in fact a false chronicle of a handful of truths. It’s a grand artistic leap, as actualized in the opening moments, which depict first-person perspective gravity-defiant bounding… like in a dream. One way that movies are like dreams is that we only tend to remember the powerful ones. This one is powerful, pricey, beautifully shot by Darius Khondji, and in Spanish. Settle in for it.