Acclaimed director swings, misses
"Bardo" feels like a love letter Iñárritu wrote to himself
After winning Academy awards for Best Director back-to-back years for Birdman and The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu had doors open to him in terms of what project to pursue next. That he walked through the one labeled “creative control with Netflix” is not surprising, given the kind of story he had in mind, but it is no less disappointing upon the final result.
Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is very obviously the most personal film Iñárritu has made, but it’s also the most stubbornly formless and painfully pretentious one as well. It’s a remarkably self-involved effort from a director who isn’t known for modesty to begin with. While it’s a project that may mean a great deal to him, there’s simply no room left in the audience for us to take this story in.
Bardo loosely chronicles the day-to-day affairs of Mexican filmmaker/journalist Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Lucía (Griselda Siciliani), and teenage son, Lorenzo (Iker Sanchez Solano). Silverio is in line to receive a coveted journalism award in the States, about which he has mixed feelings because he senses that it’s due to geopolitical glad-handing more than his merit.
His insecurity about his work is exacerbated by Luis (Francisco Rubio), a talk show host who was once friends with Silverio but who jettisoned their relationship during their respective rises to fame. Along the way, he also tries to patch things up with his estranged daughter, Camila (Ximena Lamadrid), who is living in America as well, before receiving the commendation for his life’s work.
But Bardo isn’t driven by plot as much as it’s jerked in different directions by the protagonist’s indulgent reveries, which take up the majority of the 160-minute runtime. These tangents naturally cause the audience to speculate whether these scenes are happening in reality or just in Silverio’s head, but after a while, it’s unlikely they’ll care much either way.
The surrealist sequences implement imagery from a host of origins, including figures from the Mexican–American War and conquistadors from centuries earlier who come to life before Silverio’s eyes. Sometimes the scenes are more along the lines of heightened reality, as when Silverio imagines a worst-case scenario talk show interview after he cancels at the last minute. There’s a darkly comedic running gag about a baby Silverio and Lucía lost shortly after labor that weaves in gallows humor quite deftly.
There’s a running subtext in Bardo about Silverio’s (and, presumably, Iñárritu’s) internal conflict between living in the United States and still feeling like his home is south of the border. When Silverio returns to Mexico and attends a party for his upcoming award, members of his extended family repeatedly rib him about sucking up to the “gringos” in Hollywood. There’s a lengthy sequence in which he recalls his emigration process to the U.S., then another in airport security where his citizenship is called into question by a couple TSA agents. Iñárritu obviously has a unique perspective on being torn between two countries that don’t fully accept him, and him trying to work out these feelings through this film are by far its most illuminating aspects.
If he had made a movie that was more focused on this subject, or just more focused overall, it could have worked, but there’s just too much filler that adds up to nothing. Iñárritu has showcased influence from cinematic luminaries like Fellini and Buñuel in the past, but in trying to emulate the masters, he flies too close to the sun this time around.
Luis gives an excoriating speech to Silverio about halfway through the film, concerning what he thinks about his new documentary. It’s clear Iñárritu wrote it in an attempt to inoculate himself from potentially similar criticisms about Bardo. The attempt at self-deprecation whiffs more of defensiveness than the worthwhile self-awareness that the filmmaker was able to mine more successfully in Birdman.
When Netflix distributed Roma with Alfonso Cuarón in 2018, it was a love letter to his upbringing in Mexico City. By comparison, Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths feels like a love letter Iñárritu wrote to himself.
More movies coming this weekend
Playing only in theaters is Avatar: The Way of Water, the highly anticipated sci-fi epic starring Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña continuing the story of the Na’vi alien race and the fight to protect their planet Pandora against a familiar threat.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Nanny, a horror movie starring Anna Diop and Michelle Monaghan about an immigrant caretaker based in New York City who is forced to confront a concealed truth that threatens to shatter her precarious American Dream.
Screening at Cinema Center is Triangle of Sadness, a dark comedy starring Woody Harrelson and Charlbi Dean centering around a fashion model celebrity couple who join a cruise for the super-rich that doesn’t go according to plan.