Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths Review

Jan 11, 2023

This review was originally part of our 2022 Venice Film Festival coverage.

In the past 70 years, Alejandro G. Iñárritu is the only director to win the Best Director Oscar in back-to-back years (for Birdman and then The Revenant). That feat happened twice in the 1940s. Unlike John Ford and Joseph L. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, however, Iñárritu didn’t start by making movies in Hollywood. His first feature, Amores Perros, was one of the biggest international shotgun blasts to announce a major new filmmaking talent. From his home country of Mexico, Iñárritu had immediate Hollywood success. Iñárritu’s next few 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 Oscars his films had less and less ties to his homeland. It has been seven years since Iñárritu made a feature-length film to follow his last Oscar win. Now that it’s here, it’s unmistakable how personal a narrative it is. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, concerns a documentary filmmaker who has lived 20 years in Los Angeles and is receiving an award from the American government for his journalistic practices, which causes a personal crisis in how he views himself, his home country, and their corporation-controlled neighbor.
This is not the first time that Iñárritu has gone meta. Birdman, of course, critiqued Hollywood’s obsession with superhero movies by bringing back the original movie Batman into leading roles. But while that one felt a disgust for where movies were headed, this one peers closer into himself 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 Giménez Cacho), is a filmmaker, comparisons to 8 ½ are inevitable and warranted. Fellini got his liveliness from la dolce vita of the nightlife of Rome, but Iñárritu’s films has always been more downtrodden, carrying immense guilt. In Bardo, Iñárritu has spurts where he’s the most playful he’s ever been, largely in lengthy dream sequences. With tuba blasts and physical comedy, much of the start of Bardo is unlike anything we’ve seen from the filmmaker. (For instance, his son wants to be shoved back into the womb after being born and the doctors oblige.)

There are numerous slapstick moments in Bardo that feel more like Iñárritu is trying to have fun but it’s often clunky and counterintuitive to his core seriousness. There are truthful points made about America buying Mexico that gets upgraded to the fantastical(?) idea of Amazon buying Baja California and the Mexican government rolls out the red carpet. Silverio gets to grill Cortés over the conquest of the Aztecs atop the writhing bodies of dead natives, which is revealed to be a film set not unlike his skull pyramid in The Revenant. Iñárritu has always been heavy-handed but his attempt to be airier creates more areas to bloat. And it gets incredibly unwieldy at points.

Image via Netflix

RELATED: Alejandro G. Iñárritu Talks ‘Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ and Suspending Reality

For such a personal film, Bardo largely lives in the realm of platitudes about American vs. Mexican identity and truthful journalism vs. clickbait, disagreements that let Iñárritu get didactic and teeter into artistic navel-gazing. By engaging more with surface-level ideas of differences, Silverio never becomes a fully formed character. And when the reason for how the dream sequences involve déjà vu is revealed, I found myself wishing it got a little weirder. At least that plunged a little deeper into his psyche.

The best moment in Bardo is probably a simple chase around the apartment between two lovers. It’s also the moment that’s most like 8 ½. Therein lies the biggest problem with Bardo. It tells us that it is personal, but it feels like it’s recreating an existing work and the methods to make it more his own — via magical realism — feel like a way to further distance the filmmaker from actually staring deeper inside. It feels too calculated to be personal.

The character’s imposter syndrome impulse 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 onto a YouTube show to be mocked, a fear of his that renders him mute, though he also mocks the medium that is mocking him. At this length, and by directly telling the audience this over and over, that better than sentiment drives Bardo more than it should. There are some great technical achievements here, it is Iñárritu after all, but this is one more instance of the immense scope, landscape, and lack of notes that Netflix provides that has given us yet another unshaped, and unfocused epic from a high-profile director.

Rating: C

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is now streaming on Netflix.

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