Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s latest film “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”, which was released on Netflix after being shown in South Korean theaters in last month, is a self-indulgent misfire which jumps high for greatness but only ends up with occasional glimpses of greatness instead. When I watched it early in this morning, I often felt baffled and frustrated even as admiring those splendid visual moments, and I was eventually left with hollow impressions on whatever Iñárritu attempts to achieve here.
After the simple but mesmerizing opening scene unfolded on a vast barren field, the movie instantly thrusts us into a bizarre hospital scene involved with its hero’s pregnant wife. Her baby has just been born, but the baby does not want to be in the world outside according to her doctor, and we soon see the baby really put back into her womb. We later come to gather that this is more or less the magic realism presentation of what actually happened to her and her baby, but it is just weird to me without much emotional effect, and that is all.
Our hero, Sliverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is an ex-journalist who has been an acclaimed documentary filmmaker since he quit his reporting job many years ago, and we get to know a bit about his current status. He has recently released an ambitious docufiction titled “False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”, and he is soon going to be honored by some prestigious association in LA for his journalistic achievement in the past.
It goes without saying that he is at the top of his life and career, but Silverio cannot help but become agitated and conflicted at times. When he is back in Mexico City along with his family, he is reminded of how much he has been separated from his home and country, and it is implied that he is not wholly popular in Mexico because of the main subjects of his documentary works. For example, one of his documentaries is incidentally about the illegal immigrants crossing over the Mexico-US border, and we later get an extended sequence showing how he followed and recorded their plights and struggles.
At one point, Silverio goes to a big TV studio for being interviewed by a journalist who was one of his close colleagues during that time. As cinematographer Darius Khondji’s camera smoothly follows after our hero, we are served with a series of shiny moments including the one featuring a group of dancers wearing fluffy costumes, and then there comes a blistering moment as Silverio is subsequently roasted by his old colleague in front of many audiences watching them.
Silverio simply remains non-responsive throughout his “interview”, but he talks with his wife a lot when he returns to his residence in Mexico City, and you may be baffled a bit as listening to their conversation for good reasons. Was he really “interviewed” as shown on the screen? Was it just a pigment of his artistic imagination, just like what he and a certain American character behold at a big palace?
Without clarifying anything, the movie continues to flow from one episodic moment to another, and Iñárritu and his crew members deserve to be commended for the sheer cinematic prowess shown from these moments at times. In case of the sequence unfolded during a big party for celebrating another public honor received by Silverio, the camera confidently and effortlessly moves among lots of dancing people, and that eventually culminates to a little sublime moment as our hero slowly dances among others in the center.
It is quite evident that Iñárritu tries to emulate what was attempted in Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2” (1963) and many other similar films ranging from Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” (1979) to Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York” (2008), but, alas, he does not have succeed much here as failing to have enough control over various story materials. Each of them may look good and interesting individually, but they do not gel much together on the whole, and that makes us feel more lost and confused, no matter how much the movie tries. In the end, we only come to see lots of self-pity and self-indulgence from the distance without much care or attention, and the movie eventually fizzles despite a little plot turn during its finale.
Above all, its hero, who is clearly a fictional reflection of Iñárritu, is not particularly interesting enough to hold our attention. Daniel Giménez Cacho surely tries as much as he can do with the materials given to him, but his character is not that memorable compared to the filmmaker hero of “8 1/2” or the playwright hero of “Synecdoche, New York”. In case of a bunch of performers surrounding Cacho, they simply come and go without much impact, and I must confess that I remember more those three poor amphibian pets of Silverio’s son.
In conclusion, “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” is not a total dud thanks to its admirable technical aspects, but it is a big letdown in contrast to Iñárritu’s two previous films “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014) and “The Revenant” (2015). Considering how a considerable number of critics and reviewer are enthusiastic about it, I may give it another chance someday, but, for now, I will just move onto whatever I will watch next.
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