Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film, Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, is a film overflowing with powerful images, half-told stories and vignettes that delve into very personal material. The film is not always coherent, and not everything works, but it is a mixed bag that offers enough rewards to make it worth a recommendation. The viewer’s mileage will vary, and as one might expect based on the early review, it will definitely not be for everyone.
Bardo sets its tone right off the bat with multiple disorienting sequences out of context, letting the audience know that accessibility will not be a top priority. One consistent throughline though, is its visual splendor. Netflix has been delivering some of the most beautiful imagery onscreens this year (Glass Onion and Pinocchio jump to mind), and this film bathes us in oceanic blues and city lights. It also highlights the beauty of Mexico while simultaneously focusing on its shortcomings, an internal struggle for the protagonist, whose national identity is among his many crises. If you’re going to have an emotional breakdown, why not do it while you’re surrounded by lush landscapes?
The stories are less consistent, with ongoing themes that aren’t fully explored. The film itself acknowledges this, with characters voicing their concerns at the messages portrayed by journalist Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and his struggle over his own image. He has heart-to-heart conversations with his family members, often underlining his own guilt, and takes on the film’s broader themes with heavy handed metaphors.
While there are strong performances (Griselda Siciliani is a standout as Silvierio’s wife), we are only given fleeting moments with the supporting players. The entire film is a conversation with his own ego, which can be exhausting. Occasionally, though, the film lands on something poignant, often times relating to finding positivity within life’s chaos. There is very little subtlety, but even when the writing is self-indulgent, the pace and entertainment holds your attention through the (admittedly long) running time.
The tone varies, with touches of comedy or camp popping up in surprising places. Topics include parental approval, a lost child, fear of being seeing as unworthy in both Mexico and the United States, and fear of the press; all are viewed externally, keeping fuller discussions at arm’s length. The initial shot of the film, the feeling of flying before coming back to earth, sums up the experience well: There are moments that send us soaring, but we know they’ll be fleeting before we’re brought back down. B-