Bardo, Falsa Crónica de unas Cuantas Verdades
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DIRECTED BY: Alejandro González Iñárritu
FEATURING: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani, Íker Sánchez Solano, Ximena Lamadrid, Francisco Rubio
PLOT: A Mexican national film director receives an award in Los Angeles, causing him to reflect on his own artistic life and the Mexican immigrant/expatriate experience.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: No director can adopt 8 1/2‘s self-reflective template without risking charges of narcissism, pretentiousness, and plagiarism. Iñárritu changes ahead anyway, and proves that there are still unexplored territories in the subgenre—and that you can keep a slice of the audience’s attention, as long as you keep it weird.
COMMENTS: If Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truth‘s daunting title doesn’t scare you off, maybe the 200 minute (scaled back from the 222-minute version that met with a mix of indifference and mild hostility at its Venice premiere) runtime will. Whenever a director decides to pursue a semi-autobiographical project in a surreal style, and amasses an epic budget to realize his dream, red flags start going up: get ready to gaze at a navel not of your own choosing. For these reasons, I approached the prospect of previewing Bardo with trepidation. But I’m happy to report that the movie, while it lags at times and never finds a way out of its own desert, delivers the necessary audacious panache to justify its Fellini aspirations.
Bardo begins with a shadowy man flying (well, jumping so high that he might as well be flying) over an endless desert scrub brush, reminding us of Guido’s opening dream of artistic escape. Later, a passerby addresses Silverio, our director protagonist, as “maestro.” Backstage at a popular Mexican TV show, he must weave through a throng of strongmen, dwarf matadors, a white pony, and primping showgirls in pink fur, a scene as chaotic as any Fellini circus. A character critiques the director’s latest movie (or the one we’re watching?) as “pretentious and pointlessly oeneiric,” surfacing Silverio’s own internal doubts. Silverio sneaks out of an obligation to face the press just like Marcello Mastroianni. Silverio’s friends and family show up in a dreamscape in the end as a brass band belts a march that could have been written by Nino Rota in a mariachi mood. There are probably more 8 1/2 references stuck in Bardo, and of course the entire structure of the film—the leaps backward and forward in time, the confusion between reality and fantasy, the reappearance of vanished past memories in the present—comes straight from the maestro’s playbook. Iñárritu could not have ignored Fellini’s influence without appearing like a thief, so he wisely honors the spirit of his filmic ancestor with these respectful tributes.
Where Iñárritu departs from Fellini is in his explicit Mexicanness, and his explicit politics. Fellini’s films were always completely personal; if they helped define the world’s view of what an Italian man was, that was simply because Fellini could not exist in a world without pasta and palazzi. He had little interest in the partisan issues of the day, however. Iñárritu is far more didactic in his approach: a completely realistic breakfast conversation between the director and his teenage son exposes the tension between Mexican Americans who primarily identify with their homeland and preserving its heritage, and those who prefer to assimilate and embrace the opportunities of their new home. At other times, the symbolism is broad and powerful: in a centerpiece of the story, Silverio climbs a mountain of corpses in downtown Los Angeles, only to find Hernán Cortés sitting on top: the conquistador bums a cigarette, and they discuss colonialism.
Bardo is about 50% personal and 50% political, and while not all of it works—which is almost inevitable in a work of this scope—almost every scene has a weird dream twist to it to catch your interest. Sometimes, Silverio speaks without moving his lips, to the annoyance of his family. When the director meets his father in a men’s room, his own body digitally shrinks to the size of an eight-year-old. And there’s a great—shall we say “spare”—rendition of David Bowie‘s “Let’s Dance” on a crowded dance floor. By casting some element magically off-center in every scene—and occasionally throwing a curve ball to surprise us with sequences that are completely realistic—Iñárritu builds a dreamlike portrait of a man, of a diaspora, and of the tension between the two.
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths streams exclusively on Netflix starting December 17.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The whole thing is supposed to run on a dream logic reminiscent of Jean Cocteau or Ingmar Bergman, but rather than immersive or contemplative it’s just confusing and weird.”–Jennifer Heaton, Alternative Lens (festival review)