Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | December 16th, 2022
Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.
Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths marks Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s cinematic return to his homeland, his first film made there since his auspicious 2000 debut, Amores Perros (still among my favorites of his œuvre). He takes the title from Tibetan Buddhism, “bardo” a term for the state between life and rebirth. The subtitle can have many meanings, including the literal one as the name of a documentary the main character has just recently completed. That man would be Silverio Gama, portrayed by the magnificent actor Daniel Giménez Cacho (Zama), who himself has dabbled a bit as a director, too. There’s a lot of art imitating life here in a self-reflective movie that is also a meditation on the history and current state of Mexico. An ambitious and beautiful work, Bardo is also a chore and a bore, and ultimately a snore.
As one would expect in a film by Iñárritu, the camerawork, from the very talented, longtime cinematographer Darius Khondji (Uncut Gems), impresses throughout, with many spectacular moments of grand mise-en-scène. That said, the two men have photographed almost everything using a wide-angle lens and Steadicam (or so it appears, anyway), and while this allows us to closely follow Silverio through his series of misadventures, we occasionally long for greater visual variety. More than that, we hope for a more engaging script.
Cinephiles and/or lovers of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini will recognize this movie as Iñárritu’s very own 8½, a digressive reverie that dives into the director’s psyche and complex feelings about his past, present, and future. At almost 160 minutes, it weighs heavy on the mind, for sure, despite attempts to lighten the mood through whimsy and wit, neither of which distract for long. There are sequences that fascinate, but far too many that, like the mythical snake Ouroboros, simply feed off themselves to an audience of one.
The story as it goes follows Silverio, a noted Mexican journalist and documentarian, as he prepares to accept the (fictional) “Alethea Award for Journalistic Ethics,” presented by an American organization. For the past 20 years (much like Iñárittu), Silverio has lived and worked outside of Mexico, though recently has started spending more time there. His two children–a teenage son, Lorenzo (Íker Solano), and twentysomething daughter, Camila (Ximena Lamadrid)—both feel more at home in the United States, though Camila now wants to “come home.” Wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani, Sentimental) has always supported Silverio no matter what, though she is no sycophant, keeping him on his toes when he waxes too misanthropic.
It’s hard to tell what is real and what is fantasy here, the reason why made clear at the end through the kind of unfortunate dramatic twist that invalidates most of the preceding narrative. Still, the poignancy of certain scenes, including a farewell to a deceased child and a repeated riff on longtime U.S. exploitation of Mexico, cannot be ignored. Iñárittu may, overall, be too enamored of his own subject to reach beyond the contours of personal obsessions, but he is still a gifted artist, and Bardo is by no means a complete wash. It’s just a muddle, too often adrift in narcissistic excess.
*This is not a typo