Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Year: 2022
Production Co: Estudios Churubusco Azteca SA
Director: Alejandro G Iñárritu
Producer: Alejandro G Iñárritu
Writer: Alejandro G Iñárritu
Cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho

At least Iñárritu's still on brand. Like Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) , which I wanted to like a lot more than I did, he revels too much in crafting an enigma wrapped in a riddle than in telling a coherent story.

Luckily for me I knew something about the meaning behind the title, thanks to author Kim Stanley Robinson and his cracker of a novel The Years of Rice and Salt. In Buddhist teachings, the Bardo is the spiritual realm where the soul resides while waiting to be reincarnated on Earth, the challenge being to retain enough of one's memory and personality in one's new life.

After I watched it I tried to imagine how much knowing that added to the experience, but honestly the whole thing's so nonsensical I can't see how it would have.

The rough plot is that Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho), an expat Mexican documentary maker now living in LA, is invited back to his homeland to receive a prestigious award. A few of his colleagues and peers think he's undeserving for having abandoned his homeland to pursue the money and fame America offers, but he and his family, friends and colleagues attend several soirees and awards ceremonies to cement his new standing.

Except that's not the half of it. The weird motifs are narrative, audiovisual and linguistic (of cinema, not Spanish or English). In one, Amazon has bought the state of California. In another, someone's talking but no sound comes out of their mouth. In another, sound emerges while they don't move their lips.

While meeting a government official he finds himself transported back to the scene of a pivotal battle in the Mexican-American war of the 19th century. He gets the opportunity to cross a field of corpses and climb a tower of bodies to talk to the Spanish conquistador Cortes, which then appears to be a film shoot for the documentary he's working on.

There's a repeating idea of three axolotls his son owns that show up early in a surreal flooded LA metro train scene and again when Silverio meets a health crisis in his life.

Time and the connective tissues between events and coincidences are treated very loosely and fluidly, perhaps a nod to the idea that it works differently in the titular spirit world.

And while the structure might be saying something about the themes Iñárritu was interested in and there are some interesting visual ideas, you'll be scratching your head trying to follow it too much to actually enjoy it.

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