REVIEW: Bardo, falsa crónica de unas cuantas verdades [Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths] [2022]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 159 minutes
    Release Date: October 27th, 2022 (Mexico) / November 4th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Netflix
    Director(s): Alejandro G. Iñárritu
    Writer(s): Alejandro G. Iñárritu & Nicolás Giacobone

Slivers all knotted together.

Our minds have a funny way of protecting us when events outside our control threaten to derail objectivity, comprehension, and even sanity. In the case of Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and Lucia Gacho (Griselda Siciliani) losing their first-born child Mateo thirty hours after his birth, the inability to let him go manifests as farce. They obviously know he’s gone—a metal urn in the shape of an egg holds his ashes. But the pain of that loss and the desire to watch him grow weaves a fantastical curtain for them to pull over this truth they are still too unwilling to accept at face value. Mateo wasn’t therefore taken. He chose to never arrive. He took one look at reality’s chaotic lunacy and went right back into the womb.

This is the humorous yet heartbreaking tone running throughout Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Bardo, falsa crónica de unas cuantas verdades [Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths]. He and co-writer Nicolás Giacobone seek to mine our penchant for interpreting our lives through a filter of emotion rather than confront their stark reality. The result is a fluid journey into Silverio’s psyche at a moment of existential crisis. A world-renowned journalist and documentarian hailing from Mexico and currently residing in Los Angeles, Silverio’s being honored with a revered American award that simultaneously confirms the determination and integrity with which he’s conducted his career and calls into question its validity as nothing more than a means for the powerful to placate and perhaps shield themselves from his radar’s pursuit.

Because, while he’s giving life to wild flights of fancy like his infant son popping out of his wife during sex, he’s also manifesting his anxieties and imposter syndrome. Does he deserve this accolade? Probably. Does he think he does? Even if the answer is “yes,” admitting it proves impossible. So, he imagines the worst. He conjures a meeting with an American official offering his “white whale” assignment (a one-on-one interview with POTUS) if he agrees to go easy on the US in his acceptance speech despite his journalism constantly presenting his adoptive home as Mexico’s villain (exacerbated by the Mexican American War triggered after the US stole Texas). Then comes a talk show appearance and the belief he was only invited to be publicly humiliated.

And with these professional uncertainties come more personal ones. There’s the notion that he never proved himself as a father once Mateo died even though he and Lucia had two kids afterwards (Ximena Lamadrid‘s Camila and Íker Sánchez Solano‘s Lorenzo). Did losing him make the concept of fatherhood hurt too much, so he chose work above being present for them? Maybe. There’s the dissolution of his friendship with the aforementioned talk show host (Francisco Rubio‘s Luis) that leads him to fear recourse since the latter already publicly lambasted his previous work. Does that worry stem from a disbelief in his own success or mask the fact that he’s proud to have left TV so as not to be bought and sold (like he thinks Luis is)?

It’s a little of Column A and a little of Column B. Everything is once hindsight, hopes, and regrets begin tainting memory. The title says the film is a “false chronicle,” but its content forces us to realize that every description of truth is. The fact that history demands there be a storyteller exposes the reality that some level of liberty and bias must be taken. A camera captures a moment in all its objective detail, but someone still had to choose that composition. That subject. That moment. Everything is therefore subjective and, as a result, turning the dial to eleven with the sort of surrealist retellings Silverio provides may ultimately be closer to honesty than an exacting reconstruction of fact because the former retains meaning above all.

That’s where real truth lies. That’s what flashes before our eyes on our deathbed. The impact of tragedy and joy rather than the events themselves. The sense of longing and knowing that comes with opening a drawer to find something that transports you back in time (and perhaps dream) to recall love’s light in a moment of unyielding darkness. Some of what Iñárritu creates works better than others insofar as Silverio being a vessel that personifies his own feelings and those of Mexicans, immigrants, artists, etc. (Silverio proudly standing tall on the topic of “home” at customs excels where a posh resort not allowing servants on the beach conversely feels shallow and forced), but it all comes from the heart. The artistry and cinematography prove next level regardless.

And it all fits together in a way that justifies the almost three-hour runtime. The beginning scenes fold into the ending to find new meaning once the realities behind the fantasies are made clearer. It’s a bigger picture recontextualizing smaller, seemingly disparate vignettes, that it, in turn, inevitably needs to eventually be painted. So, time jumps and shifts without warning. The dead can appear as ghosts and the living as both memory and potential. Does Silverio talking to Hernán Cortés match him talking to his parents? No. Iñárritu knows this too. Rather than excise it, however, he doubles down and makes it a meta exercise in self-critique and pretentiousness. He makes it so his Bardo is also Silverio’s Bardo. Luis mocks both. Silverio wields both to achieve enlightenment.

We then find ourselves in the process. Just as Silverio is Iñárritu, the ideas and concepts he battles, defeats, and is defeated by are ours. Feelings of inadequacy. Feeling as though you are unworthy of what you have. But there’s also being reminded that you may not be suffering as much as you might think, relatively speaking. Just as Silverio must chastise Lorenzo where it comes to contextualizing his experience as the son of an affluent immigrant, Lorenzo and Camila are allowed to chastise their father whenever he forgets that same affluence. Being human demands complexity. It demands external judgement and internal reflection. We do what we must to survive. We appropriate and diminish. We learn and adapt. We applaud ourselves and demand better. We live despite death.

[1] Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022). Daniel Giménez Cacho as Silverio. Cr. Limbo Films, S. De R.L. de C.V. Courtesy of Netflix
[2] Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022). (L-R) Daniel Gim»nez Cacho as Silverio and Ximena Lamadrid as Camila. Cr. Limbo Films, S. De R.L. de C.V. Courtesy of Netflix
[3] Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022). Daniel Giménez Cacho as Silverio and Francisco Rubio as Luis Valdivia. Cr. Limbo Films, S. De R.L. de C.V. Courtesy of Netflix

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