Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Writers: Nicolás Giacobone, Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ximena Lamadrid

Producers: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Stacy Perskie

Music: Bryce Dessner, Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Cinematographer: Darius Khondji

Editor: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Cert: 15

Running time: 174mins

Year: 2022

What’s the story: On the eve of receiving a prestigious journalism award in the United States, Mexican documentary filmmaker Silverio Gacho (Cacho) reflects on his life.

What’s the verdict: To say the latest Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film is self-indulgent is akin to saying the latest Tarantino is violent. Self-indulgence is what Iñárritu does. But he does it with such elan, we excuse him the navel gazing.

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is inspired by Fellini (predominantly 8 ½), Terrence Malick, and Roy Andersson. Iñárritu himself co-writes, co-produces, co-composes, edits, and directs. Netflix has footed the bill. That cumbersome subtitle refers to a hit documentary Bardo’s protagonist Silverio made about Mexico. The film itself is a sprawling tale about the professional doubts and personal regrets Silverio wrestles with on the eve of receiving a prestigious American award. Many of Silverio’s country folk see him as selling out in being feted by gringos north of the border. Over the course of three hours, reality blends with dream logic, and time ain’t what it used to be.

Iñárritu won Best Director and Best Picture for Birdman, a showy, self-congratulatory love-in that became a critical darling. There is plenty of Birdman in Bardo’s plot and artistic choices. Including that self-satisfied title; let’s not forget Birdman’s official moniker is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Jesus…

But, Iñárritu is also the filmmaker behind Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and The Revenant. Movies that offset their self-indulgence with compelling plots and characters, plus genuine emotion. Bardo nestles midway between his Oscar winner and those better films. That extravagant runtime certainly allows plenty of room for cake-having-and-eating-too. As if to head-off his critics at the pass, Iñárritu has an old colleague of Silverio’s list everything insufferable and ill-conceived about the docu-journalist’s latest work. Barbs that- surprise, surprise – apply to Bardo too.

There is also a touch of directorial hypocrisy to Iñárritu bemoaning the cinematic vacuity of superhero movies, while unleashing multiple technically impressive but ultimately empty protracted single-take camera shots. That he acts as his own editor on Bardo may have been an indulgence too far.

Yet, despite the narcissism, Iñárritu is capable of conjuring great beauty, here gorgeously captured by Se7en cinematographer Darius Khondji. A striking sequence of Mexico’s “disappeared” population, victims of a rampant drug economy and political corruption, littering the streets will be one of the year’s best scenes. The opening shot is a perfect way to hook in an audience. A poolside chat between Silverio and his daughter Camila (Lamadrid, a talent to watch) is a quiet moment of tenderness amidst all the self-satisfied chin-stroking. Cacho deserves praise for a rumpled, hang-dog, but charismatic performance as the talented, pretentious journalist-turned-filmmaker. He anchors the film when Iñárritu’s excesses threaten to spin it out of the audience’s orbit of interest.

But, Iñárritu is not above skewering his alter-ego’s hypocrisy. Silverio takes his family to an exclusive spa resort, but guiltily says nothing when his maid is turned away from the private beach. The problem is, none of this coheres into a particularly compelling unified vision. The film’s central statement, that artists can be hypocrites and the autumn years of your life will be tinged with regret, is hardly the firm foundation on which to build a three hour movie.

The lasting impression is that Iñárritu has delivered a film set in Mexico City that spends too much time on just one of its (occasional) residents at the expense of a more powerful story.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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