Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths review

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is as ambitious as it is dull

2 out of 5 stars

If Alejandro González Iñárritu lacks for anything, he doesn’t lack ambition. His latest film, a nearly three-hour semi-autobiographical farce titled BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, is anything but diminutive. It’s epic and excessive, utilizing various techniques and expensive effects to capture the whirlwind experience of a journalist, Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho), falling into a bottomless pit of despair as he returns to Mexico upon being presented with a prestigious award.

Bardo is structured primarily around fantastical and surreal vignettes. The film’s semi-chronological throughline draws us into various anxieties that plague our grizzled hero. He’s torn between America and Mexico — one of his children was stillborn, and he struggles with imposter syndrome. With obvious references to Fellini, particularly his autofiction struggle 8 ½, the film brims with tangents and digressions.

But, unlike Fellini’s film, BARDO does not work. 

There are many reasons why Iñárritu’s epic autofiction fails, but it comes down to one fatal flaw: it’s just not very funny. Despite the simulacrum of whimsy in the form of babies wanting to return to the womb and GoldenEye 007 for N64 big-head mode, Iñárritu fundamentally lacks a light touch. The rhythms and pleasures of nonsense just don’t come naturally to him, and the movie slogs on and on and on.

If the movie doesn’t work, it’s no fault of Daniel Giménez Cacho, who has a fantastic face for farce, combining a steely seriousness with an intense fragility. He’s handsome in a tired way and has all the pomp of a successful journalist. With the film opening with Silverio leaping across the desert, we understand immediately that we are entering a world not grounded in reality. In a state of bewilderment, occasionally swept up by excess, Cacho strikes a balance between dreaming and waking life that almost makes the film tolerable. 

The film’s most exciting element is examining Silverio’s work — by not examining it at all. There’s enough self-awareness in both writing and performance to understand that paradoxical guilt and arrogance would enormously burden a man of Silverio’s career stature; it’s unclear if his work speaks to the masses (or merely his colleagues) because it’s good or if he’s being awarded for institutional reasons. There’s an insinuation that his award was not won on merits but rather an empty political statement about diversity. We never really get any insight into what Silverio’s writerly voice sounds like or what his documentaries look like, but that rings true; most people don’t read or care about the work of great or awarded artists. The actual content of their work doesn’t matter very much at all. 

There are obvious parallels between Silverio and Iñárritu, who has a somewhat strained critical relationship. Iñárritu’s work has long been cast as rather self-serious (it is), and one senses that this film attempts to negate that criticism while still embracing the ostentatious style of movies like Birdman and The Revenant. Without being an overt address to the critics, the film still makes compelling arguments about the ecosystem of artists and the press, a parasitic co-dependency built on bad faith interpretations and outright hostility. To Iñárritu’s credit, he doesn’t make facile “critics are failed artists” arguments, and he seems to engage in a healthy bout of self-deprecation that reveals a rather hollow system of artistic engagement. 

It’s a shame that a film that feels as though it’s overflowing with so many ideas and so much ambition could feel so tiring and, ultimately, dull. Scenes are interminable and fail to lose themselves to a sense of play. Everything feels double-edged, grandiose and strangely empty. Perhaps though, that’s Iñárritu’s grand statement: art in the modern world has lost all value, and there’s no saving it. Let’s abandon our work and turn to what matters most, our loved ones, because literature won’t save you. Film won’t save you. Your country certainly, won’t either. While it might be tempting to see the film as life-affirming, it ultimately feels incredibly cynical, leaving a bad aftertaste that lingers long after the three-hour runtime is up. ■

BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu)

BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Nov. 18. and starts streaming worldwide on Netflix on Dec. 16.

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