Only after more than halfway into Alejandro Iñárritu’s ‘ Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ does one realise that even the title of the film is a play on the structure of its unique screenplay. The term ‘Bardo’ is said to be a mystical state between death and rebirth when life’s deepest memories reemerge over the fading consciousness. These memories aren’t remembered for what they actually were but for how they felt and were remembered. It’s a state where facts and fiction are indistinguishable. ‘False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’, on the other hand, is the surrealistic documentary feature that the protagonist of the film, senior journalist and documentary filmmaker Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), has made on the plight of the immigrants from Mexico and on his own life as an immigrant and journalist living in the States.
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (Spanish)
Akin to the title, Iñárritu places these two narratives closely to each other and seamlessly blends them to create a movie that majorly feels like a fever dream. And like the title design, the documentary feature eventually becomes only a part of the larger narrative enclosing Silverio’s life. The film unpacks Silverio’s life, with all the trauma, pleasure, and everything in between. As a father, Silverio struggles with his son Lorenzo’s (Iker Sanchez Solano) stand on his cultural roots, even when he himself struggles with it. He wishes his son never grew into this teenager who is too....teenager-like. As a husband, he grapples with the loss of youth-like passion with his wife, Lucía (Griselda Siciliani). Even when he has attained everything one could wish for — he is just in due for a prestigious award, he has secured an interview with the U.S. President, and his documentary is being well-received — he feels undeserving of them all and he wishes to go to a home that doesn’t exist anymore. Undealt issues from the past, like everything he wishes he had told his dad, are also fleshed out in form of hallucinations.
However, Bardo is more about an affluent immigrant’s feeling of homelessness, identity crisis and guilt over the privilege that many do not get. The very first shot of the film shows the shadow of Silverio leaping into the air and jumping across the vast Mexican desert and towards civilization — something that the people in his documentaries, the immigrants who had to walk through every inch of the desert, would have loved to be able to do.
The film rapidly infuses surreality in a hyperreal space, giving life to ideas that settle in the dark corners of everyman; everyday anxieties are heightened and intrusive thoughts that arise during adversities are displayed through flawless imagery. For instance, it is common for parents grieving the loss of a newborn to be told that the child didn’t like this world and that they merely passed on a better one. In Bardo, you get the idea that Silverio and his wife were told of it when their newborn son Mateo died after a day of life. And Iñárritu gives life to this grief through a nightmare of a scene in which the baby boy is pushed back into the womb by the surgeon, minutes after the delivery. And the couple hasn’t moved on, and Silverio sees Mateo popping his head out from the womb even during love-making. Nightmare-like was an understatement.
Such elaborately written scenes, most designed in Iñárritu’s signature uncut shots, are stitched through surreal transitions. And it’s impressive how self-aware the film is of its unconventional style. At one point, while defending his documentary by explaining why he chooses emotions over truth at this juncture in life, Silverio tells his friend and critic Luis (Francisco Rubio; Luis is on a polar end of what Silverio deems to be ethical journalism) that all life feels like a convolution, as “a tumult of images memories and slivers all knotted together.” This plainly puts what Bardo is.
The film’s surrealism and the narrative unreliability are bound to make you suspend all trust and after a point, you almost begin to look for these creative cuts and transitions. Even when the larger story is built patiently, you only get a sense of the phenomenon that Silverio is undergoing until a glorious finish.
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is Iñárritu at his self-indulgent best. He consolidates almost too much for a freewheeling audience, from creating a world where Mexico is occupied by the U.S. and a Mexican state is bought by Amazon (the film is playing on Netflix) to having an existential conversation about genocide and the creation of Mexico with Hernán Cortés, the Conquistador who colonized Mexico. And yet, the very structure of the screenplay compels your attention and you are eager to dig deeper and solve the bigger picture. Now, did I tell you that this film is a dark satirical comedy? One can only wonder what Iñárritu’s nightmares are like.
‘Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ is streaming on Netflix