Mexican documentary filmmaker and journalist Silverio Gama (Daniel Jimenez Cacho) has been living in California for 20 years. In a couple of days there will be a ceremony at which the immigrant author will be presented with a prestigious award. In the meantime, for the first time in a long time, Silverio with his wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani) and teenage children (Jimena Lamadrid and Iker Sanchez Solano) accidentally end up in their native Mexico City. Gama is greeted as a national hero and lavish parties are held. The documentarian prepares a speech for the ceremony, experiences, faces an identity crisis and is nostalgic.
After the triumph of The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu was silent for seven years. Before, the director had never had such long breaks in his work. Looking at Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, one can imagine why the Mexican did not shoot anything. But Iñárritu took a break in his career at the peak: a year before The Revenant, Birdman, probably even more warmly received by the audience and critics, came out.
Iñárritu has always focused on men in crisis: financial (“Love’s a Bitch”), religious (“21 Grams”), existential (“Biutiful”) or creative (“Birdman”). Only “Babylon” is knocked out, and then the character of Brad Pitt had to act decisively after the bullet wound of his wife. It can be assumed that all the characters are alter ego, different manifestations of the author’s personality. But if in Birdemn the hero was active, then the documentary filmmaker from the new picture is passive. In Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, no guesswork is required: Silverio Gama is Iñárritu’s double. Age, origin, new place of residence coincide, there is much in common in appearance. This is a bold and self-revealing gesture. The director no longer hides behind fictitious plot constructions, but exposes his soul. The biographies of Gama and Iñárritu are barely distinguishable, but the author intensifies the internal conflict, making the hero a documentary filmmaker. Silverio captures the prose of life, the problems of society, but in his homeland reality begins to fall apart before the eyes of the Mexican, memories and visions come to replace him. Damn magical realism breaks through, even if you hide in America for 20 years.
Gama mentally returns to the birth of his first child, who lived only 30 hours, meets the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes (Ivan Massague), who conquered Mexico, and talks with his dead father (Luis Couturier), who did not expect his son to become a celebrity. In reality, Silverio Iñárritu listens to the reproaches that have been tormenting the creator for a long time. Fellow journalist Luis (Francisco Rubio) accuses a friend of arrogance and deceit, and a teenage son (Iker Sanchez Solano) notices that his father has lost his roots and can only expose the vices of Mexican society while sitting in California.
Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is a Buddhist concept, an intermediate state between two phenomena. In Tibetan Buddhism, the bardo is most often understood as the period of time between one life and the next. The word perfectly describes the state of the protagonist. Gama hung between his homeland and a foreign country in which he has lived for many years, between the present and the future, reality and visions, Spanish and English. The documentary filmmaker is well aware of his vulnerability: he makes films about the poor and unfortunate people, when he himself has a huge house and a happy family. Silverio feels like an impostor who does not deserve awards. This is some kind of misunderstanding.
Iñárritu puts possible complaints about the film into the mouths of secondary characters and tries to win over the audience to his side. Over the course of a long journey, the audience is expected to change from anger and irritation to empathy and acceptance. Before them is not an upstart with a giant ego, but a doubting, reflective creator. There is no pedestal from which Gama looks at mere mortals.
After the premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival and mixed reviews from the public, Iñárritu returned to the editing room and cut the picture down by 22 minutes. But hardly anything has changed significantly. Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is not a narrative movie. The film could last at least an hour and a half, at least five. Iñárritu broadcasts on the screen a stream of images that flow from one to another according to dream logic. The sequence of episodes is best understood by the author. Through the film, the Mexican is trying to articulate fears, survive a creative crisis and move on.
“Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” was shot not by Iñarritu’s usual colleague and three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, but by another brilliant cameraman – Darius Khonji (“Seven” by Fincher, “Amour” by Haneke, “Midnight in Paris” by Allen and “Uncut Gems” by the Safdie brothers). Epic panoramic party scenes, hardships on the path of immigrants to the cherished frontier, historical battle scenes from the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 and camera flights over the endless desert give way to intimate portraits of Gama’s loved ones, shot with wide-angle lenses. Bardo is a movie of inhuman beauty. The film is worth appreciating for its Oscar-worthy visual perfection alone. Filmed on 65mm film. Iñárritu has not worked with a non-digital image since the time of “Biutiful” – 13 years. And in his native Mexico, the author did not shoot for 22 years – from the debut tape “Bitch Love”.
The Mexican director hardly lays claim to the originality of the content, limiting himself to great formalist successes. In addition to Honja, Oscar-winning production designer Eugenio Caballero (Pan’s Labyrinth, Roma) and composer Bryce Dessner of The National worked on the film. The musician quite consciously stylizes melodies for wind instruments to the classical music of Nino Rota from “8 and a Half”. It seems that any author making a movie about his own creative block cannot shy away from comparisons with Fellini’s masterpiece. Iñárritu even borrows individual episodes from the Italian, but instead of a circus tent, he dances until you drop at a party.
Netflix is becoming a platform for the implementation of non-obvious projects of iconic authors. “Bardo” stands in a row with “Roma”, “Irish” and “Pinocchio Guillermo del Toro”. Iñárritu’s painting is a complaint about the life of an extremely successful person, confused about the future and looking for outside support. Probably, the director has already tried to go to a bar and start a conversation with a random drinking buddy, probably did not work out. Get a 160 minute movie. Unfortunately, even the beauty of the picture at the third hour is exhausting. “Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” is much more necessary and interesting to the creator than to the audience.