REVIEW: Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022)

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022). Daniel GimÈnez Cacho as Silverio. Cr. Limbo Films, S. De R.L. de C.V. / Netflix

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu — Screenplay by Alejandro González Iñárritu and Nicolás Giacobone.

Taking inspiration, whether conceptually or visually, from a lot of different filmmakers including Fellini and Malick, Alejandro González Iñárritu has gone out and made a visually eye-opening self-insert introspective dream narrative that is possibly going to be quite puzzling for most people (if, indeed, they ever choose to watch it and sit through it on Netflix). It follows a Mexican journalist and documentarian filmmaker who is trying to make sense of his dual identity during an existential crisis. That is a really short and simple way of summing up a film that tries to be so much more and which has an overwhelming runtime, but it perhaps doesn’t get to the kind of jaw-dropping visual ideas that the director throws out there. It goes places that can be tough to wrap your head around (e.g. a baby is pushed back into her mother moments after it was born), and these ambitious hallucinatory sequences may be the best thing about the film, even though it, along with the runtime, may be the very thing that discourages viewers from pressing play.

Admittedly, I’m not always a huge Iñárritu fan. I want to love his films, but I end up admiring them more than I like them. But I really wanted to see what it was all about. I wanted to give it a chance. I want Iñárritu to win me over, and I thought this was a good chance to do that with a clearly quite personal film. Ultimately, though, this wasn’t exactly my thing, but I really do sometimes enjoy introspective exercises like these, and I am fascinated by the recent trend of filmmakers wanting to pour their hearts and lives out on the big screen.

I thought the surreal and absurd elements were really fascinating. That magical realism is what kept me interested in it even when its excessive runtime (160 minutes) tested my patience time and time again. I think it sort of exists as this film about identity and mid-life crises when you find yourself stuck between two chairs in your identity-making. The look of the film — those extreme wide shots — takes some getting used to, but, even though it may be gimmicky, it does look good. I also want to compliment Daniel Giménez Cacho’s dedicated central performance. He truly throws himself at what he is asked to do, and it looks like had absolutely no qualms about it. His contribution to the overall experience works.

But, wow, this could’ve left an hour — possibly more — on the cutting room floor and probably been better for it (reportedly an even longer cut was screened elsewhere). The hallucinatory dream recreations worked for me, but I wanted the film’s emotional beats — and there are a bunch of competent scenes here with emotional power to them — to work and land even better for me, and I think the admirable ambition gets in the way of what it wants to say about grief and loss.

So, yeah, it’s an occasionally fascinating exercise that is a little bit too navel-gazey and bloated for its own good. But I do admire the effort, and, honestly, when Netflix lets you do this, then, sure, go with it. I’m not sure this is what Netflix expected him to do with a carte blanche, but, honestly, even though it’s not exactly my cup of tea (at least not in its current form), good for him.

5.7 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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