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‘BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ Is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Most Personal And Self-Indulgent Work Yet – Review

Alejandro González Iñárritu is no stranger to captivating the viewer with a man’s delusions brought into the world, and Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is no exception. Seven years after the release of The Revenant, the two-time Academy Award-winning director comes back with an emotional story that speaks to the soul about how life is a brief series of unconnected events, and what makes us human is the meaning that we give to it. Daniel Giménez Cacho gives the performance of his career in the role of Silverio Gama, a journalist about to receive a prestigious award in the city of Los Angeles. 

(Courtesy of Netflix)

When Silverio’s journey begins, the film’s surrealism takes over instantly, as the recognized documentary filmmaker breaks a plastic bag containing three axolotls, provoking the flooding of the entire subway wagon he finds himself in. Early on, it is established that whether you’re looking at one of Silverio’s dreams, thoughts, or his real life is irrelevant. The feelings experienced by the character will be the driving force of the narrative, and the plane of reality where they take place is merely an accessory. You are taken through his hopes, dreams, and nightmares to get to know this man, giving you different glimpses into his passionate heart.

Iñárritu uses Silverio as a self-insert character, criticizing aspects of Bardo itself as you watch it, attempting to anticipate the reactions his film might entice from critics and audiences alike. That is when the protagonist’s characterization is at its lowest, as the reflections on the project become cautiously self-indulgent. Make no mistake, Silverio is a beautifully constructed character. He shines his brightest when he is forced to reevaluate how he treats the people he cares about the most, such as his wife, Lucía (Griselda Siciliani), and his son (Iker Sánchez Solano). The movie makes sure to give every family member a chance to have a heart-to-heart with the leading man that reveals plenty about him and the philosophy of the film as well.

(Courtesy of Netflix)

The magic of the film resides in how tangible the dream sequences feel. Uncut Gems cinematographer Darius Khondji uses light to convey environments full of sounds, weight, and life. It is shot so carefully that you can effortlessly assume the smells and textures of every significant location in the film. Mexico City’s vibrant streets come to life when Khondji uses natural sunlight to capture the spirit of the Mexican capital, in comparison to the tiresome Hollywood cliché of adding a golden filter to any location in said country. Khondji’s Mexico City is closer to the real thing than any attempt to portray it during recent years.

Another highlight regarding staging that can be found in Bardo is Iñárritu’s trademark of long travelling shots that masterfully create a smooth sense of space. The camera follows the characters through multiple rooms and hallways inside a single building, seamlessly creating the illusion of a single shot taking place. This awareness of the environments surrounding the characters helps to establish the pace of the entire movie. At an approximate runtime of two hours and fifty-four minutes, the film takes its time with every sequence infused with the protagonist’s dreams, but, thanks to Iñárritu’s editing, the first two acts do not feel as if they are draining the momentum of the story. 

Constructing Silverio’s bonds with his family, his identity based on his nationality, and the route of his career take turns to share the spotlight of the narrative. It is hard to tell at which point Iñárritu’s own life experiences stop and the character’s fictional journey begins. Nevertheless, it is easy to understand where Silverio’s frustrations come from and how they’re a beautiful balance between being the result of his upbringing and primarily influenced by the choices he makes later in his life. Not only is it easy to root for the journalist to escape his own dreams, but exploring his complex reality becomes more important than seeing him achieve his goals.

Bardo - Netflix
(Courtesy of Netflix)

Bardo tries to walk on shaky grounds when it deals with complex topics, such as Hernán Cortés’ invasion and subsequent conquest of Mexico back in the sixteenth century. The only time its analysis of Mexican history is poignant and engaging is when it is told through the eyes of Silverio and his family. They deal with an identity crisis due to Silverio’s children being raised as upper-class children in Los Angeles. The protagonist begs his children to embrace and live based on their Mexican roots, but it is clear that the request isn’t consistent with the life Silverio gave them.

Despite the self-indulgence and questionable historical analysis, Bardo is Iñárritu’s most personal work. He delivers a dreamlike story that speaks to the centuries-old search for the meaning of life. The cast, led by Daniel Giménez Cacho, brilliantly portrays what it is like to be a family and, specifically, a Mexican family. Love, identity, and a person’s connection to their roots prevail in this magnificent dream that will put the Mexican director as a frontrunner during next year’s awards season.

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths opens in limited theatres on November 18 before streaming on Netflix on December 16.

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