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Review: Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

November 17, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest film from Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Bardo (full title Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) finds the Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker in introspective mode and working in the Spanish language for the first time since Biutiful in 2010, to craft a semi-autobiographical tale of identity and belonging, as well as life and rebirth.

Though theoretically of a piece with other semi-autobiographical directorial works like Alfonso Cauron’s Roma, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans and James Gray’s Armageddon Time, Bardo is instead a different sort of film that finds Iñárritu telling a much more expressionistic version of his story.

The film centres around Silverio (played by Daniel G. Cacho), an acclaimed documentary filmmaker and journalist from Mexico who is living with his family in Los Angeles. But Silverio is brought back to his home country to accept an international career achievement award, at a time when the United States government is becoming increasingly hostile to immigrants coming over the border, sending him on a journey of soul-searching.

This isn’t a plot-heavy film. It unfolds mainly through a mix of extended conversations about identity and the immigrant experience, mixed with ambitious dreamlike sequences. Right from the unbroken opening shot of a shadow running, jumping and floating through the desert, what Iñárritu does most successfully here is capture the stream of consciousness feel of a dream, through both the editing and impressive production design.

There are parts of the film that initially make very little logical sense, as it morphs between different scenes and locations, and includes some more bizarre touches such as the appearance of a CGI fetus who is birthed but decides that the world is too much for him and wants to go back inside his mother. But it all flows together with a sort of dream-like logic to it that is at times quite hypnotic.

This has been a polarizing film since it first premiered to mixed reactions at Venice (prompting Iñárritu to trim about twenty minutes off of his initial three-hour cut that played there), and it’s a film that does and says a lot. It still feels a bit overlong even in its current 159 minute form, and could certainly be accused of being self-indulgent. Though I don’t personally think that’s a fair assessment, because Bardo is an intriguing, almost always interesting work from a director in self-reflective mode, who doesn’t let it take away from the grandeur of his vision.

Iñárritu is mostly successful at mixing the more fantastical impulses of his Best Picture winner Birdman, with the intimacy of his earlier dramas (it’s also the director’s first movie to be shot in Mexico since his 2000 breakout Amores Perros). The 65mm cinematography by Darius Khondji (working with Iñárritu for the first time) is one of the standout elements of the film, including the fluid long takes that the director has become known for, such as a dance sequence set to a haunting a cappella version of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”

This is a film that defies easy categorization, but grows deeper than it might initially appear. The result is an often surrealistic tone poem about the experience of being an immigrant and feeling stuck between two places. If not quite his magnum opus (or his , with Fellini’s film being a clear influence), Bardo is still a fascinating and at times genuinely moving artistic statement from Iñárritu that promises to potentially get even better on a rewatch.

Bardo is now playing in limited release in select cities, including a 70mm presentation at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. It will be available to stream exclusively on Netflix as of December 16th.

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