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film review

Daniel Giménez Cacho as Silverio in Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.Courtesy of Netflix

  • Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
  • Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu
  • Written by Alejandro G. Inarritu and Nicolas Giacobone
  • Starring Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani and Ximena Lamadrid
  • Classification N/A; 159 minutes
  • Opens in select theatres Nov. 18, streaming on Netflix starting Dec. 16

A confession to begin this review of Bardo, or to borrow director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s aggravating subtitle, here are a handful of truths: I absolutely hate – hate, hate, hate – that this movie made me cry.

Not out of fear or frustration, though I certainly experienced both those emotions during the film’s 159 minutes (blessedly down from the 174-minute cut that played the Venice Film Festival this past summer). No, the part of Bardo that provoked my trickle of tears arrives toward the end of this black comedy, a Fellini-esque waking dream of one man’s journey to reconcile his (and his country’s) past with the present. Here is how the moment – at which point I realized that I was washed-hands done with Bardo and nervously-slash-disgustingly impressed that it was still going – plays.

While vacationing at a luxury resort, celebrated Mexican journalist Silverio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) and his family – wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani), twentysomething daughter Camila (Ximena Lamadrid), teenage son Lorenzo (Iker Sanchez-Solano) – head to the beach. In the palms of Lucia’s hands rests a tiny, CGI-wrought baby, which coos and wriggles before she places it on the sand, at which point the child crawls toward the sea, eventually disappearing underneath the gently rolling waves. The fantastical moment then cuts back to reality, with the family having in actuality just spread the ashes of Mateo, Silverio and Lucia’s stillborn child, into the waters below.

The scene encapsulates everything wrong and right about Bardo: It knows exactly how to play its audience – anyone with children might break down at such an unbelievable sight – but cheapens the emotions that it wrings with faux-expensive tricks from an imagination made lean from years of self-aggrandizement. By the end of Bardo, you will feel full of emptiness, and for what? The privilege of being a passenger on a guided tour through the brilliant, oh-so-tortured mind of back-to-back Oscar winner Alejandro G. Inarritu.

Technically, this film is about Silverio, who after living comfortably for much of his professional life in the United States heads back home to Mexico City to receive a lifetime achievement award. But with a similar family makeup, wardrobe taste, and even hairstyle as Inarritu himself, Silverio is an obvious proxy for the filmmaker – even the journalism angle that separates the two professionally dissolves into winking charade, given that Silverio has segued from being a lowly newshound into a celebrated documentarian who pals around with wealthy financiers.

For every compelling idea floating in Bardo’s air – the existential crisis that results from leaving one home for another, how familial bonds break and strengthen across generations – there are two more that flatten baseline interest.Courtesy of Netflix

This leaves Bardo as a work of autobiography, which seems to be the accidental genre of this fall’s movie season given similarly engineered memoir-cinema from Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans) and James Gray (Armageddon Time). But whereas Spielberg and Gray’s soul-searching abide, largely, by discipline, Inarritu falls deep down a rabbit hole of self-indulgence.

For every compelling idea floating in Bardo’s air – the existential crisis that results from leaving one home for another, how familial bonds break and strengthen across generations – there are two more that flatten baseline interest. Is success a burden? Can you be both professionally accomplished and personally fulfilled? To have such problems is, according to Bardo, an immeasurably profound dilemma. This is swaggery storytelling that screams me me me.

Even when the maximalist visuals grab hold – as in, by your collar with an unpleasant yank – it is hard to feel much but exhaustion. How many times can we watch Silverio walk around the desert or down the streets of Mexico City, the camera swirling and jerking around him as if he’s a video-game avatar stuck in refresh mode? Inarritu’s answer may not surprise you.

There is a decently sized circle of film critics who have been calling for the director’s head for years now, though I believe that the filmmaker possesses the monstrously impressive technical skills to deliver the goods (Amores Perros, The Revenant) when he chooses to drill down with narrative relentlessness. But more often Inarritu reaches so high for thematic profundity that the crash back down to Earth is embarrassing, painful, acute (Babel, Biutiful, Birdman).

I suppose that he could be credited with having a sense of humour about it all. Like Birdman, a film which also came equipped with a pretentious subtitle that I have no interest in repeating, Bardo features a prolonged scene in which Inarritu’s hero is confronted by a snide and dismissive critic. See, the guy can take it, he’s in on the joke – although Bardo’s in-film critic does end up being magically rendered mute by Silverio, who then waltzes away from the conversation with more than half the movie still to go.

I should have taken the out that Inarritu offers. You still can.