Alejandro Gonzalez InarrituOscar-winning creator of films such as Amores Perros, Birdman and The Revenant is now back in his Mexican homeland for this quasi-autobiographical epic, stretching through a personal magical and realistic dreamscape where reality and fiction morph from ways that are technically elegant and massively unbearable.
It’s a film of quite staggering complacency and self-satisfaction – somewhere on a continuum between Fellini and Malick – about a Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker who was lavishly rewarded in the United States and is now receiving a grand prize. , usually awarded only to Americans. (Iñárritu has, I suppose, a somewhat sketchy idea of the professional life of true documentary-journalist makers, as opposed to that of directors of Oscar-winning feature films of colossal importance.) But now, in this moment of triumph, our hero finds himself in a midlife identity crisis, plunged into a rabbit hole of memories and hallucinatory anxieties about his family, his career, and Mexico itself.
The elegant veteran performer Daniel Gimenez Cacho plays Silverio, the award-winning filmmaker seen first in LA (a surreal and poignant storyline that we’ll get to at last) and then in his Mexican hometown where he tries to get an interview with the US president – an interview that the U.S. Ambassador Offers to Host, Provided Silverio Drops His Criticism of White House Anti-Mexican Racism. In fact, we hear a bizarre news story about an attempt by Amazon to outright buy the Mexican state of Baja California as a vast distribution center – insightful satire that alerts us to the fact that this movie is being produced. by Netflix and not by Amazon. .
Silverio is loved and admired by his close friends and family, but his journalist contemporaries have something else in their hearts, revealed in the gigantic party thrown for him by his media comrades in Mexico City – a sort of combined wonder envy to resentment in the way he left them behind, commodifying Mexican poverty and misery for gringos in his films about immigrant experiences and the drug trade. A certain resentful ex-colleague, who now hosts a top notch but horribly rude TV show, tries to get him in for an interview, but Silverio fears he’ll be ambushed with questions about his vulnerable childhood and cracks. racists about his indigenous origin.
He is particularly unhappy with his docu-fiction epic about Mexico, titled A False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, which playfully imagines what the conquistador Hernan Cortes thought and felt in a brutal but fanciful conquest scenario – a scenario that Iñárritu later duly reinserts into Silverio’s story, which has the effect of semi-seriously rendering Silverio and Cortés of equal importance in this myth of the New Mexico.
The film is peppered with brilliant individual moments: there’s a startling sequence in which the streets are littered with the lifeless bodies of Mexico’s “disappeared”: the missing claimed by poverty and crime, heartlessly ignored by the state. And there’s a bravery scene in which Silverio comes face to face with the ghost of his poor old father and tries to tell him everything he should have said when he was alive.
There’s a cleverly depicted scene in which Silverio, despite all his activism, takes his family to a super-rich vacation spot where servants aren’t allowed on the beach – and another when Silverio asks the US immigration official at LAX to apologize for saying that as a Mexican national on an O-1 visa, he has no right to call America “home”. The latter is where the film feels most intensely autobiographical (but perhaps Iñárritu and co-screenwriter Nicolás Giacobone dreamed it all up).
It’s done with real panache – so much panache, in fact, that you can forgive much of the movie’s outrageous narcissism. Iñárritu could, if he wanted, tell us an equally painful but less grandiose and self-mythical story of his own life – but he exercised his prerogative as an artist and gave us this confection instead. It is certainly spectacular.