This review was originally part of our coverage of the 2022 Venice Film Festival.
Over the past 70 years, Alexander G. Inarritu is the only director to have won the Best Director Oscar two years in a row (for birdman so what The ghost). This feat happened twice in the 1940s. Unlike John Ford and Joseph L. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, however, Iñárritu didn’t start out making films in Hollywood. His first feature film, love dogs, was one of the biggest international shotgun blasts to herald major new film talent. From his home country of Mexico, Iñárritu had immediate success in Hollywood. Iñárritu’s next films featured some of the biggest movie stars in the world (Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Javier Bardem, Cate Blanchett). By the time he was winning the Oscars, his films had less and less ties to his homeland. It’s been seven years since Iñárritu made a feature film to follow his last Oscar win. Now that it’s here, it’s unmistakable how much of a personal account it is. Bardo, false chronicle of a handful of truthsconcerns a documentary filmmaker who has lived 20 years in Los Angeles and receives an award from the US government for his journalistic practices, which causes a personal crisis in how he perceives himself, his home country and their neighbor controlled by the company.
This isn’t the first time Iñárritu has gone meta. birdman, of course, criticized Hollywood’s obsession with superhero movies by bringing back the original Batman movie in starring roles. But while this one felt disgust for the direction the movies were taking, this one was getting closer to itself and not the state of an industry. Due to the loose and lengthy nature of the film and the fact that its main character, Silverio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), is a filmmaker, comparisons with 8 ½ are unavoidable and justified. Fellini derives his vivacity from the sweet life of Rome’s nightlife, but Iñárritu’s films have always been more downtrodden, carrying immense guilt. In bardo, Iñárritu has flare-ups where he’s the most playful he’s ever been, largely in long dream sequences. With tuba explosions and physical comedy, much of the early part of bardo is unlike anything we’ve seen from the filmmaker. (For example, her son wants to be pushed back into the womb after he is born and the doctors force him to.)
There are many burlesque moments in bardo who look more like Iñárritu trying fun, but it’s often clunky and counter-intuitive to its core seriousness. There are genuine arguments about America buying Mexico being upgraded to the fantastic (?) idea of Amazon buying Baja California and the Mexican government rolling out the red carpet. Silverio gets to grill Cortés over the conquest of the Aztecs atop the twisted bodies of dead natives, which turns out to be a movie set similar to his skull pyramid in The ghost. Iñárritu has always been bossy, but his attempt to be more airy creates more areas to inflate. And it gets incredibly heavy at times.
For such a personal film, bardo largely lives in the realm of platitudes about American identity versus Mexican identity and truthful journalism versus clickbait, disagreements that let Iñárritu become didactic and veer into artistic navel-gazing. By engaging more with ideas of surface-level differences, Silverio never becomes a fully formed character. And when the reason the dream sequences involve deja vu is revealed, I found myself wishing it had gotten a little weirder. At least it delved a little deeper into his psyche.
The best moment of bardo is probably a simple chase around the apartment between two lovers. It is also the moment that most resembles 8 ½. This is where the biggest problem lies. bardo. This tells us it’s personal, but it feels like recreating an existing work and the methods of making it more his own – via magical realism – seem like a way to further steer the filmmaker away from looking more deeply at the inside. It seems too calculated to be personal.
The impulse of the character’s impostor syndrome described by Silverio’s wife (Griselda Siciliani) is combated by Iñárritu with routine artistic arguments and a platter of metaphors. One of the dream sequences involves Silverio being brought on a YouTube show to make fun of, a fear of him which renders him mute, though he also mocks the medium who mocks him. At this length, and repeating it directly to the audience over and over again, this better than the feeling grows bardo more than it should. There are great technical achievements here, it’s Iñárritu after all, but it’s one more example of the immense scope, landscape and lack of ratings that Netflix provides that gave us yet another uncrafted epic. and untargeted from a high profile director.
Bardo, false chronicle of a handful of truths is now streaming on Netflix.
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Bardo, a false chronicle of a handful of truths – CNET – ApparelGeek