Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Bardo: False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths” is one of the silliest films I’ve seen all year, a work that takes big swings and strikes out almost as often as it hits a home run.
It’s also visually splendid, full of sights I’m grateful to have witnessed. In a movie year full of divisive titles (such as “Nope,” “Babylon,” “Men” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once”), this is yet another example of a film that has a devoted cult following, demands a stump speech defense to the detractors and sports brilliance alongside its flaws.
An award-winning journalist is summoned to a high-profile interview and uneasy with his status as an award-winning director in America and a heavily scrutinized figure in his native country of Mexico.
Episodic and rambling, it unravels in the third act. What holds it together, even at 160-minutes, is a series of impeccably designed and staged sequences.
“Bardo” is sometimes overly broad and often silly, but occasionally thrilling. Inarritu will indulge in moments that he should have been talked out of, like having a baby appear and disappear from his mother’s womb (its far more outrageous than how I’m describing it), though the subtext of the moment lingers in the mind.
Many scenes are like this – if Inarritu has made a no-holds-barred passion project (and all of this is clearly very personal to Inarritu), at least he did it as a generously budgeted waking dream.
There are enough successful passages and some key scenes that are truly magical, that make it worth seeing. I loved the introduction, which brings to mind a favorite cartoon from my youth: The incredible opening shot is reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka’s “Jumping” (1984), among my absolute favorite animated short films.
Silverio Gama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is our protagonist and, obviously, a stand in for Inarritu. A misstep was making him a documentarian. Why? He’s obviously world famous, cinematically minded and very rich – can you imagine Erroll Morris living this kind of lifestyle?
Cacho is a fine actor but I never cared about Gama, only what was going on inside his head.
A character states that “Mexico isn’t a place but a state of mind.” Despite sequences where Mexico’s past and present intertwine, “Bardo” is more about being Inarritu than a focused commentary on the social structure of Mexico.
Inarritu loves impossible mirror angles, in which CGI allows for the camera to be in places that would normally be picked up by the camera.
“Bardo” wants to be “8 and a Half,” “Knight of Cups,” though there are also nods to Stanley Kubrick and Luis Bunuel. Darius Khondji’s cinematography is dazzling even when the film briefly touches down in “reality.”
A slow, striking scene in which Silverio encounters Cortes (yes, that Cortes!) atop a giant pile of corpses has a great punchline. A dance sequence is thrilling, among the best scenes of its kind ever staged (it must’ve taken forever to figure out how to choreograph the camera and the dancers).
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There comes a point where it simply runs out of air and slowly deflates: the third act, with blatant steals from “The Tree of Life” and “All That Jazz” (although, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best) fail to provide a true emotional climax.
I’m not a fan of Inarritu’s Best Picture-winning “Birdman,” with its look-at-me filmmaking not compensating for the lack of a single appealing character. Watching Inarritu’s new movie is kind of like “Birdman” without Michael Keaton in it.
When the film leans into Solverio, I did my part and paid attention, but only the most surreal moments transported me.
Take it or leave it, this is as personal and self-indulgent as movies get. The word “pretentious” doesn’t scare me, as I’d rather see a filmmaker strut with confidence and make a film like this than a forgettable, safe and disposable audience pleaser.
Inarritu found mainstream success and Oscar glory with his wild, uneven “Birdman” (2014) and his far sturdier “The Revenant” (2015). This is one of those films that could only have been made, let alone financed, as a result of back-to-back monster hits. If you’re willing to wiggle around in Inarritu’s subconscious, which I think is the idea, than you’ll find much here to relish.
If you’re saying “Oh, give me a break!” after the opening ten minutes, then you’ll likely be hurling vegetables at the screen.
A character says on screen that “People come and go. Ideas are what remain.” I couldn’t agree more, as the visual heights of Inarritu’s film are the true selling point but the characters and plot are not. I didn’t care about the dreamer but loved his dreams.