The Austin Chronicle

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Rated R, 159 min. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani, Ximena Lamadrid, Íker Sánchez Solano, Luz Jiménez, Luis Couturier, Francisco Rubio.

REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., Nov. 18, 2022

Alejandro González Iñárritu is as contradictory a filmmaker as they come. His films are so often ambitious yet strangely dull, beautiful yet vain, drunk on ideas yet never penetrating enough to cohere them into an insightful whole. I admire much of what he incorporates into his artistic vision and hardly ever actually like his movies. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths does not buck the trend.

The film’s temperament is explained in its title: Though semi-autobiographical, Bardo often exists in a sort of unreality. Following Silverio (Cacho), a renowned Mexican journalist/documentarian living in Los Angeles and presumably a stand-in for Iñárritu himself, the film floats through a trip back to Mexico where he returns after receiving a prestigious award – apparently the first to be received by a Mexican or Latin American filmmaker. His trip finds him in situations that seem hallucinatory: experiencing the birth of a baby that wants to go back inside its mother, swimming underwater on a bus that appears to flood out of nowhere, experiencing vivid daydreams of anxieties stemming from his imposter syndrome. Typical for Iñárritu, much of this is depicted via striking, long takes of dialogue and extended tracking sequences. It’s rare this movie has a traditional cut to the following scene, as Silverio often finds himself in the next sequence of events by the happenstance of going down a particular hallway or turning a certain corner. Cinematographer Darius Khondji’s camera turns the world into an illusive, often beguiling maze of dreamy visions and mirages.

As a sensory experience, it’s impressive in the unique way of its auteur. As an actual film, it can be difficult to completely buy into its pure indulgence. I’ve said this before about Iñárritu’s films, but I feel like I would like them more if there just weren’t so darn much of them. At two hours and 40 minutes (and that’s after 20 minutes were shaved off from an initial three-hour cut screened at the Venice Film Festival), Silverio’s journey of introspection and personal reckoning becomes woefully repetitive. For a film with such a tenuous relationship with the ennui of reality and for one filled with so many sublime visual sequences, the plights of its main character turn it into something frustratingly tedious.

Maybe the joke is on me, as Iñárritu seems acutely aware of his own excesses and preoccupations. A scene where Silverio gets lambasted by a talk show host about his film being pretentious and sophomoric seems to predict potential criticisms thrown at Bardo itself. I don’t think acknowledging the defects of a film within the writing makes it good, but there is an interesting and clearly personal perturbation within the filmmaker here that extends to the larger ideas at hand. Iñárritu seems particularly worried about the ways in which he’s potentially lost touch with his culture and heritage, as Silverio is constantly poked at and derided for leaving Mexico and “kissing the ass of gringos” to get to the position he’s in now. The potential mirror against real life is conspicuous; after all, Iñárritu is indeed an awards darling in America and this is his first Spanish-language film since 2010's Biutiful and the first fully shot in Mexico since his debut, Amores perros, in 2000.

It’s for those reasons that I don’t know if I’d necessarily describe Bardo as shallow in the way I would Birdman or The Revenant, but it certainly is laborious in its aimlessness and mechanical in the way a film is when it's trying to convince you of its significance. It’s constantly begging for you to give yourself over to it, but it turns that into an arduous task. It’s as immersive as it is insufferable. There’s greatness packed in there, but the most lasting impression is how much time is spent trying to convince you of it.

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