Alejandro González Iñárritu is not afraid to challenge his audience, that’s for sure. His latest film, the passion project Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths), is a lot to ask from viewers. It makes perfect sense that this movie has started its run with a bit of a divisive reception. Even in a festival environment, watching Iñárritu channel Fellini and 8 1⁄2 in this manner is a big ask. At the same time, those willing to give themselves over to Bardo will see something that may not always make sense, but is full of incredible imagery, as well as a sense that a filmmaker is giving all of himself to you. Whether or not the story resonates is one thing, but it’s impossible not to respect the ambition. Playing a the Telluride Film Festival, Bardo is a flick that, love it or hate it, you won’t soon forget.
Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) meanders a lot, but the more you just go with the flow, the better it all works for you. Fight this one and it will fight back. At three hours long, it’s not an easy watch, but it can be a rewarding one. Just know that going in, since Netflix has let Iñárritu really go to town here.
Detailing the plot here is somewhat of a folly, but here are the broad strokes: This is the story of Silverio Gacho (Daniel Giménez Cacho). Silverio is a renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles with his wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani) and children, consisting of son Lorenzo (Íker Sánchez Solano) and daughter Camilla (Ximena Lamadrid). A former news anchor, Silverio is set to receive a prestigious award, one he seems to want no part of. Whether it’s putting off writing his speech, standing up an interview appearance with a former friend and colleague in Luis (Francisco Rubio), or seeming to be lost in his dreams, he’s a man in the throes of what seems like a crisis.
The more Silverio floats through his life, the more the definition of the word Bardo (a Buddhist term for the transitional period between this world and the next) comes into play. Whether we see the birth of another son, where the newborn is asked to be put back into the womb, or a visit from a deceased parent, little of what happens is meant to be taken literally. Then, the third act has a reveal that puts a lot into perspective, provided that you’re still on board.
The cast certainly give themselves over to the material. Daniel Giménez Cacho is in nearly every shot and he’s terrific. He’s the one you end up paying the most attention to, due to the film’s focus, but it takes nothing away from his co-stars. Francisco Rubio has a standout scene where he eviscerates the character of his friend, while Ximena Lamadrid, Griselda Siciliani, and Íker Sánchez Solano are strong presences as well. Cacho is simply just best in show. Supporting players include Andrés Almeida, Jay O. Sanders, and more.
Co-writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu does some of his best work here, though other elements are some of his most lacking. The script, credited to him and Nicolás Giacobone, is a weak link, as it really does meander and threaten to navel gaze more than you’d like. At the same time, the music by Bryce Dessner and especially the cinematography from Darius Khondji shine, mixing with Iñárritu’s bold direction. Khondji in particular is the MVP of Bardo. This impeccable craftsmanship results in a standout sequence like a big party on a dance floor. Nothing here is small. Pacing is rough, but that comes with the territory of a work of this length. There’s a hump to get over, transitioning to the third act, but as long as the movie hasn’t lost you, you’re headed towards steadier waters.
Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) is truly for cinephiles, and I suspect Iñárritu is just fine with that. Here at Telluride, it seems to have met with a warmer reception than initially at the Venice Film Festival, but it will be fascinating to see how it does going forward, and eventually streaming on Netflix. It’s not for everyone, but it’s well worth giving a shot to!