Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is a predictable tribute to one man’s unpredictable genius.
The latest semi-autobiographical opus from a filmmaker to drop in mere weeks, Amores Perres and Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu follows his fellow Mexican compadres Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro and does some personal, possibly award-winning work for Netflix. While Bardo is supposedly about Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a Mexican journalist / documentarian, you know damn well this is all about Iñárritu. (Dude even looks like Iñárritu.)
Bardo is mostly a batshit fantasia. Gama (and Iñárritu) flows through a dreamscape that’s supposed to represent his life, complete with mundane moments with his fam and wildly insane sequences, usually involving throngs of people —like when he and a cluttered, cascading dance floor groove to a vocals-only version of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Veteran cinematographer Darius Khondji captures much of the action through a fisheye lens, making the movie look like a late ‘90s hip-hop video that was directed by Hype Williams.
Right from the jump, Iñárritu (working again with Birdman screenwriter Nicolás Giacobone) lets you know Bardo is an insane, introspective ride. After all, it’s right there in the title. In some Buddhist circles, bardo is an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth, so expect a lot of surreal shit to flow through this thing. It practically begins with Gama’s wife (Griselda Siciliani) giving birth, only to be informed by the doctor that the baby wants to be shoved back inside, which is what happens. (The bloody umbilical cord drags behind her as she and Gama walk out the hospital.) The baby then pops out at the most inopportune moments, like when Gama is trying to get his cunnilingus on. We know this represents the baby they both lost long ago, but still — gotdamn!
As you probably expect, Bardo is an extravagantly self-indulgent exercise in navel-gazing. Acting as though Federico Fellini’s 8½ and Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz never happened, Iñárritu creates a savvy, self-reflexive portrait that buzzes with bizarreness, but you may start to wonder if that bizarreness is the only thing this spectacle has going for it. There’s a touching scene where Gama has a heart-to-heart with his deceased dad in a dingy bathroom, which would be a meaningful moment if Iñárritu didn’t superimpose Gama’s head on the body of a little boy throughout most of the scene. It’s an obviously freakish sight to behold.
Throughout the two hours and 39 minutes (for Chrissakes!) that Bardo plays out, Iñárritu attempts to spotlight his Mexican heritage, while also garishly dramatizing why he wanted to distance himself from said heritage to begin with. As much of a love-hate relationship he has with his homeland, Iñárritu is still ready to show, when it comes to his people, he’s still ride-or-die. This is evidenced when Gama has a heated back-and-forth with Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes atop a pile of dead bodies. And although Iñárritu beats his critics to the punch by having characters comment on Gama’s pretentious tendencies (one of Gama’s colleagues practically gives a thinly-veiled, scathing review of the movie we’re watching when he scolds Gama about one of his films), Iñárritu still silences those critics when their complaints gets on his nerves (he literally takes that colleague’s voice when he tires of it).
By the time you get to the finale (where we learn why we’re watching what seems like one man’s fever dream), you may just accept that the flighty, long-winded Bardo is just Iñárritu saying that, even though he makes movies where Brad Pitt and Michael Keaton are the stars, dude always has Mexico on his mind.
“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” is now in limited release and streams Friday on Netflix.