Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, 2022.
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
Starring Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani, Ximena Lamadrid, Íker Sánchez Solano, Grantham Coleman, Andrés Almeida, Omar Leyva, Edison Ruiz, Mar Carrera, Grace Shen, Daniel Damuzi, Misha Arias De La Cantolla, and Jorge Gidi.
An acclaimed journalist-turned-documentarian goes on an oneiric introspective journey to reconcile with the past, the present and his Mexican identity.
Much like its title, Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is filled with contradictions. Perhaps the most extreme of them is that, while there is no denying the latest from Alejandro G. Iñárritu (co-writing this introspective and loose semi-autobiographical character study alongside Nicolás Giacobone) is self-indulgent and bursting with excess (even after having approximately 20 minutes trimmed from its running time following divisive reactions out of the Toronto International Film Festival that may or may not have influenced the decision), although not necessarily because the filmmaker believes himself to be God’s gift to cinema.
Presuming that fictional journalist turned famed documentarian Silverio Gacho (an emotionally stirring Daniel Giménez Cacho) is the stand-in for Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the direction here comes across as audaciously bold and confident but, in actuality is tormented with insecurity. There’s a segment where Silverio finally comes to verbal blows with a sellout TV host more fixated on viewership and social media rather than covering serious matters (like Amazon in the process of purchasing some Mexican land), arriving sometime after a hallucinatory nightmare fantasy imagining that if he goes on air with this longtime acquaintance to promote his latest documentary, he will mercilessly be torn down. The host pretends to like Silverio’s work and to want to interview him but offers scathing criticism behind his back.
During this conversation where both men let loose, revealing their true feelings, the already dreamy and absurdist Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths begins breaking the fourth wall, with Silverio more or less acknowledging the most confounding aspects of this experience thus far (especially artsy transitions such as Silverio stuck inside a flooded train and escaping by inexplicably crawling into his home, which is sure to test the patience and minds of anyone watching on Netflix). He then confesses to having imposter syndrome while explaining that life is a series of fleeting moments that you either surrender yourself to or don’t.
The same wisdom applies to Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths as a film. There’s an early line of dialogue where Silverio attacks the artistic legitimacy of anyone that isn’t getting playful with their projects. Considering that an opening scene of Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths involves a newborn baby wanting to go back and sides his mother’s womb because this current world is too fucked up to live in, it’s safe to say that Alejandro G. Iñárritu is pouring his personal philosophies into this visually dazzling and thoughtful rumination on art, family, and cultural identity (accentuated by Bryce Dessner and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s rousing and fittingly farcical score.
Without spoiling it, the above is also a metaphor. There’s a beauty to Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths in that, as unrestrained and bizarre as the movie is, its messages and themes couldn’t be clearer. If such obviousness threatens to frustrate, it’s also fortunate that Alejandro G. Iñárritu is in commanding control when it comes to presentation and execution; DP Darius Khondji has the seemingly impossible task (as do the actors performing) of framing scenes reverting back and forth between reality and dreamscape, often with anachronistic production design. Even during stretches where the film does feel full of itself, letting scenes pointlessly run too long, every shot radiates artistic imagination and epic scope (another hallucinatory sequence involves climbing a mountain of dead bodies in what feels like purgatory by way of Mexico).
Despite elaborate dance party sequences and atmospheric set design, some of the strongest moments come from simply pointing the camera at Silverio interacting with his family members; wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani), Boston- residing college-aged daughter Camila (lXimena Lamadrid), and angsty teenage son Lorenzo (Íker Sánchez Solano). Speaking as an observing Caucasian-American, one can’t help finding fascination in Lorenzo pointing out that his father is quick to defend Mexico whenever gringos have negative things to say but is just as quick to ridicule what the country has become (the locals don’t seem too bothered that land is being sold off to Amazon, optimistically hoping it will benefit them).
Admittedly, Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths somewhat drags itself across the finish line. Too many choices involving CGI are distracting and should have been nixed before attempting them. The rest is unfettered absurdity with varying degrees of poignancy that is so beguilingly crafted that surrendering to the sensory overload comes naturally.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]