It ain’t easy being an award-winning Mexican auteur, according to Alejandro González Iñárritu in his latest opus, BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. This Netflix original is a three-hour semi-autobiographical nostalgia piece, charting the tumbling thoughts of a prize-winning journalist as he muses on identity (national and personal), colonialism, immigration, grief, regret, integrity and the push/push between artistry and commerce.
Starting off with a reverse birth where a foetus is literally pushed back into a vagina, Iñárritu’s fever dream meanders through a kaleidoscope of absurd, surreal scenarios. We watch as lauded protagonist Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) joins illegal immigrants crossing the US/Mexican border, licks the (literal) fried-egg breasts of a porn star and climbs a mountain of naked, dead indigenous people to discuss invasion with Hernån Cortés. Elsewhere, he regresses to childhood to meet his dead dad in the loo, goes down on his wife to discover a baby’s head emerging, dances wildly to a-cappella David Bowie at a party…
This is a world where people declare “the amphitheatre of the genital sun is a dung heap”, review the movie in snarky fashion while it’s happening (“it’s a mish-mash of scenes”) and wade around water-logged trains looking for Axolotls and drop in the street with no explanation like Radiohead’s Just video. It’s as slippery to get a narrative handle on as those Axolotls…
This pinball-machine stream-of-consciousness and fiercely uncompromising approach may thrill those who haven’t seen Fellini’s 8 1/2 or a Kaufman/Gondry film (or are loaded on edibles). But it’s difficult to understand who might go for this on a streaming platform where fickleness and instant gratification are king. While Bardo does eventually reach a point where staying the course rewards us with answers, it’s hard won and demands patience.
Though ambitious and visually stunning (gorgeous cracked deserts, beautiful beaches, houses filled with sand), it’s wilfully elusive and unwieldy to the point of frustrating. Iñárritu has tackled similar themes more successfully and smartly in previous works such as Biutiful, Babel and the short film Carne y Arena, so such a splurge tips into the realm of self-indulgence.
Conversely, the sheer balls of putting such a film on Netflix and demanding steamers’ attention has to be admired, as does the technical aplomb with which the dreamlike scenarios are brought to life. A moment where a child is placed in the ocean is genuinely affecting. And yes, it makes some kind of sense at the end… but how many viewers will get there?
Bardo is scheduled to be reach cinemas on November 18, 2022, before streaming on Netflix on December 16, 2022. For more, check out the best Netflix movies available right now.