Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths
"Iñárritu is very capable – one might even say brilliant – but has no idea how to restrain himself." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Alejandro G Iñárritu is something of a marmite filmmaker – and what’s more, he seems to love it. Attracting a cult following early in his career, he has become more and more self-indulgent over time, to the point where this particular, semi-autobiographical work will test even his most devoted fans. That’s not so much because of its subject matter as because of the cinematography, which may have attracted an Oscar nomination and may be very effective in places but which, over the course of more than two and a half hours, becomes exhausting to watch.

Almost entirely shot on Panavision Sphero lenses, the film has a mild fishbowl effect which works very well in places – notably a dancehall scene scored by an a capella version of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. It requires the visual cortex to work much harder than usual, however, so that some viewers will become nauseous or develop headaches, whilst others will simply feel drained. Using its continually has a similar effect to trying to spin out a film as a continual action sequence with no pauses for breath, no ebb and flow of tension. It feels deliberately alienating, intended to provoke rather than to contribute at a more meaningful artistic level.

Of course, provocation is something of a trademark for Iñárritu. It sometimes has a point. This scene opens with a shadow on the desert sand which references the work of Sergio Leone, but skips quickly to a hospital room where a newborn baby protests that the world is an awful place and he wants to go back inside his mother. Her passive consent might seem like the ultimate in male directorial fantasy until one considers that Iñárritu and his wife, Maria Eladia Hagerman, have themselves lost a child, an experience which might make them willing to do just about anything. In places the veil between the film’s protagonist, Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and his real life counterpoint is painfully thin.

The framework of this tale involves Silverio lying in a coma, perceived as being between life and death (like the bardo of the title in Buddhist philosophy). What we see are his dreams, which flow into one another with a logic distinct from that of day to day life. There’s good use of CGI to map some clever transitions, though as with the lensing effect, it’s an approach which is overused. Further bardo-style motifs appear throughout, such as axolotls, which can slip back and forth between juvenile and mature states. There is also, of course, the weird sense of liminality which can stem from being an immigrant. The process of crossing from Mexico, the tension between Mexican and US identities, and the longing to go home even from a place which one calls home are addressed in a variety of ways over the course of the film.

There are a lot of shifts in perspective here, some of them physical, as when Silverio meets his deceased father in a nightclub toilet for an urgent heart-to-heart. Cacho is very good and makes us feel for his character even if, like many of those around him, we find him insufferable. Unless one can be playful, one will not be taken seriously, he tells his driver in an early scene. Some of the background material is seriously playful, like the little news items we keep hearing about Amazon buying up parts of Mexico, whilst a sequence which sees people mysteriously dropping down in the street, ‘not dead but not coming back’, is playfully serious.

Bardo has a lot of the flavour of the similarly self-indulgent Birdman, and if you loved that film, you will probably find much to enjoy here (though I would still advise refraining from watching it all in one go). A much more personal film, however, it is still more severely hampered by the director’s inability to recognise that sometimes less is more. Iñárritu is very capable – one might even say brilliant – but has no idea how to restrain himself. The result is a bit like being force fed chocolate cake until, even if it’s your favourite food in the world, you want to vomit.

Reviewed on: 12 Mar 2023
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An epic comedy about journalism.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Writer: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone

Starring: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani, Ximena Lamadrid, Iker Sanchez Solano, Andrés Almeida, Francisco Rubio

Year: 2022

Runtime: 174 minutes

Country: Mexico

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