Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first film is set and shot in his hometown Mexico since turning heads over two decades ago with love dogs is as long and windy as its title. “It’s pretentious and unnecessarily dreamlike,” scoffs a fellow Mexican who has found success in crude commercialism rather than art and truth, dismissing the work of the semi-autobiographical protagonist. Iñárritu seems brazenly ahead of his detractors. As accurate as you find this assessment, the epic existential comedy, Bardo, false chronicle of a handful of truthsit is also a demanding work of art, oscillating with seductive fluidity between dream and reality with ravishing visuals, shot on 65mm by the great cinematographer Darius Khonji.
At a busy three o’clock, the netflix feature is a lot of movie. If there is pleasure in abandoning oneself to its languorous rhythms and its sinuous narrative detours — I have never been bored — it does not escape accusations of self-indulgence or drift, borrowing from And all that and The great beautyas well as a key influence on both films, Fellini Half past eight.
Bardo, false chronicle of a handful of truths
An odyssey back to basics in a tragicomic tone.
You might wish that Iñárritu had tightened his focus, as his friend and colleague Alfonso Cuarón did with his childhood memories, Rome. But it’s deeply personal and immersive cinema that shows great soul-searching, both into individual and national cultural identity, the creeping mortality, the price of acclaim, the conflicted heart of the returning expatriate. , the porosity of time and the seductive labyrinth of memory. Perhaps most telling is the corrosive consideration of living and working in a country that has shown such cold imperialist arrogance towards its own.
Co-written with Nicholas Giacobone, collaborator of Iñarritu on biutilful and birdmanthe screenplay reimagines the director as Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a famous Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker who has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years and is set to receive a prestigious international prices in Mexico City. He will be the first of his compatriots to receive this honor.
It opens with the shadow of an invisible man walking through a vast expanse of scrubby desert, flying away, perhaps a nod to birdman. That image returns at the end, this time clearly visible as Silverio, wandering alone in a land that will always hold meaning for him.
The absurd key is established in the scene that follows, in which Khondji’s camera floats down a hospital hallway to find Silverio awaiting the birth of his son. But the doctors inform the child’s mother, Lucia (Griselda Siciliani), that he doesn’t want to step out into this broken world, proceeding to put the baby back inside her. This child reappears at inopportune times, especially during oral sex. It gradually comes to light that he died just a day after he was born, a tragedy that still grieves Silverio and Lucia, as well as their adult children, teenage Lorenzo (Inker Sánchez Solano) and 20something Camila (Ximena Lamadrid).
As news reports inform of a U.S. government-approved plan by Amazon to buy Baja State, Silverio gears up for the awards ceremony and its related publicity. Or rather, he mostly avoids her, as mixed feelings about being back in his home country overwhelm him.
At Chapultapec Castle in Mexico City, the United States Ambassador (Jay O. Sanders) glosses over Silverio’s pointed comments about the stacked risks of the Mexican-American War in the mid-1800s, prompting the documentarian to conjure up a full-scale re-enactment of the battle that took place there, with uniformed cadets wearing bad period wigs. The use of a marching band in this surreal vignette is one of many elements reminiscent of Fellini. (Elsewhere, the score by Bryce Dessner of The National and Iñárritu tends to work as an atmospheric enhancement to the visuals.)
Mexican history comes to life in an equally unconventional but darker way later, as Silverio wanders the streets of the capital – first empty, then bustling and cosmopolitan – and turns a corner to find faded away fall on the pavement all around him. Eventually, he comes across a mountain of tangled, naked corpses of native Mexicans, which he climbs, meeting Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador responsible for the downfall of the Aztec Empire, at the top.
These reflections on Mexico’s brutal history, as well as its spirituality and culture, are loosely intertwined with evidence of the people’s ongoing struggles. Recurring scenes show a mass migration north across the border, with Silverio in journalist mode interviewing his compatriots fleeing poverty, crime or violence, a touching exodus seeking hope on the “other side”.
These snippets form a sprawling mosaic, but the film is most engaging when it builds expansive sets that bend gracefully from one development to the next. Most intoxicating of these is the festive awards reception, where old friends, family and fellow professionals gather to mescal and dance as Khondji’s camera deftly winds its way through the crowd.
On the terrace, Silverio comes into disagreement with his old friend, the aforementioned junk TV provider, unhappy because the illustrious guest has bailed out without warning on a scheduled live appearance on his show. He accuses Silverio of failing to keep his ego out of his work of self-aggrandizement, while Silverio responds by calling him a mediocre flag-waving nationalist—vulgar, stupid, and proud of it.
The winner then skips sharing the stage with a government dignitary and slips into the men’s restroom, where he encounters the deceased father who was never able to express his pride in his son while alive. This refreshes the old man’s advice: “Take a sip of success, stir it and spit it out, otherwise it will poison you.” He continues through another door, down another dark hallway to his childhood bedroom, where a masturbating teenager fantasizes about the return of a TV variety star, followed by a visit with his elderly mother.
There’s a hypnotic quality to this coasting middle section, a sustained charge that falters in some of the more verbose passages around it. Part of Silverio’s self-questioning – about his fear of dying and leaving behind an insignificant legacy of work – sounds familiar to too many artistic memoirs.
But there is a poignant aspect to Silverio’s reflection on what it cost him and his family to leave their country. Calling him a “first-class immigrant,” Lorenzo pushes his father’s pangs of guilt over his privilege, evident when the family’s housekeeper is denied access to accompany them to the beach at a private resort. luxurious. The bitter irony of Silverio’s relatively cushy existence is hammered home in a literal but effective scene at the Los Angeles airport, where a Latino border agent informs him that his residency status does not entitle him to call America at home.
The final section looks back in time to an outcome that finds Iñárritu – or Silverio – facing the inevitable, overcome with wonder, confusion and regret. “Success was my biggest failure,” he confesses in a telling moment that fits the ambivalent nature of a film whose skepticism about what constitutes truth is inherent in its subtitle.
Audiences’ stamina for this meandering existential exploration of personal, professional and national identity – as tragicomic as it is sad – will vary depending on their interest in the artist or their appetite for the film’s aesthetic beauty. Even after three hours, Silverio remains a somewhat elusive character, even though Giménez Cacho (seen recently in Stay and Memory), with her slender figure and saddened eyes, reveals herself to be an eternally curious guide, responding to the warmth and spontaneity of family scenes.