Acclaimed journalist and documentarian Silverio (Daniel Giménez-Cacho) returns home to Mexico after a long absence in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s semi-autobiographical BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.
Everyone can use a little bit of self-reflection every once in a while. Most people don’t get the chance to do so while chatting to Hernando Cortés on top of a CGI statue of an indigenous Mexican. Still, Alejandro G. Iñárritu isn’t ‘most’ people. Following a seven-year hiatus after making back-to-back Oscar winners – Birdman and The Revenant – BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is the director’s first release since 2015 and his first Mexican-made film in over twenty years.
Bardo has no time for metaphors or subtlety: Silverio is the author in all but name, and his family tree matches up pretty well. The film is generous in throwing nods to other movies. The result is an excessively personal picture sprinkled with more universal truths: Mexico’s problems with crime, or the complex relationship an ex-pat has with the country they fled from.
This isn’t a tightrope walked for the entire runtime. Any director would struggle to pull that off at 152 minutes (far too long, whichever way you slice it). Long moments are indulgent, as the plot leans a little too hard on what are, presumably, Iñárritu’s lived experiences. It’s all done in a way that feels too much like a therapy session excerpt. And the overarching plot never really comes together, amounting to a sequence of individually exciting ideas and scenes rather than something wholly tangible.
Still, it’s an approach which suits Iñárritu’s style well. His trademark long and smooth camera movements give the hallucinogenic spectacle a lightness. It looks great, and Netflix has given him a hefty budget for CGI to complement the natural beauty found in Mexico City’s clubs and streets. The cast, too, is excellent, with Giménez-Cacho capturing Iñárritu’s essence without resorting to parody.
In all, Bardo is a difficult film to recommend without caveats. Yes, it’s self-indulgent, and its casual disregard for a cohesive plot is bound to put some people off. It’s far too long and has a comparable number of endings to The Return of the King. The whole thing has more than the whiff of a midlife crisis. And yet, as one man’s examination of his crumbling psyche, as a treatise on the art and his place in the world, Bardo is oddly compelling. A little self-reflection can go a long way. Watch Bardo and find out for anyone wondering how much they can take.
Bardo premiered at BFI London Film Festival on October 8 and is released in cinemas on November 18.