Photo: ‘Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’
I typically write reviews to help lift up films and the people who make them. I have always felt this is important for the industry. Even in mediocre films, you can always find an incredible aspect of the experience that either teaches you something or entertains you. I have read a few reviews on ‘Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ which is something I rarely do before I write my own opinions on a film. I do not just review films but critique them in ways that help every filmmaker make amazing Cinema. This film is a journey through Alejandro’s artistically profound brain. I say these things because this fits into what I am about to expel.
‘Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ is a visually stunning piece of art. It is vastly misunderstood by many people who walked into a theater expecting ‘The Revenant’ or ‘Birdman.’ Something I speak about often is the personability that a person brings to their work. Frida Kahlo’s paintings would not nearly be as magical without knowing her personal struggles. Writing and speaking from our own experiences really affect the work that is put out. It has a lot to do with the passion that stirs within artists.
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Personability Through Loss
Alejandro lost a child with his wife after birth, and when this happens it creates a rift in a loving family. His experience is brought to life in this, as well as his own duality with identity. Who am I is frequently what I had scrolling through my mind as I watched the film. As an artist continues to travel through their careers they have no destination, but a journey to become who they think they should be. Often, we wind up in territory that we are unfamiliar with, creating an imposter syndrome.
This film reminds me of some of the great surrealistic works of the past. In my Directors Series I have examined Federico Fellini’s style and influence on filmmakers. This is no doubt a page right out of his book of style, combined with the non-linear states that Luis Buñuel would explore. The opening scene reminds me of ‘8 ½’ by Federico. I have always had recurring dreams like this and so has Alejandro. Instead of us flying through the sky, it is our shadow or our subconscious brain trying to extend past the ground and reach the heights we so often feel unworthy of. It confines us to a solid surface when all we want to do is fly.
‘Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ – Luis and Alejandro’s Similar Approach
Luis Buñuel released a film called ‘Phantom of Liberty’ in 1974 and it was a series of moments inside of each other that truly had no beginning or end. It was a collection of memories Luis had and turned into a surrealist societal and political-themed film. Luis was forcing us to examine certain ways society reacts and lives by giving us absurd but thought-provoking moments. This is what keeps the audience watching, the mind being bent due to toilets at a dinner table instead of chairs. Luis was upsetting the balance of our subconscious in order to provoke imagination and thought.
‘Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ fits exactly into this mold but in a way built for a modern audience. It is a series of moments that are linear, but also nonlinear. This sounds contradictory but is true. This fits into the idea that time is only how we imagine it. Yes, it moves forward, but we end up where we began. We leave this world the way we came in, with nothing but these random moments strung together creating half-truthful memories. This film is a dive into surrealism by an absolute master artist, one who claims he is a musician first! Can you believe that?
A Shadowed Success
Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is a documentary filmmaker who has found success in America as a Mexican filmmaker. The film begins with a dream of a man trying to take flight in the desert, but the only thing leaving the ground is his shadow. A shadow that quite frequently shows its face to direct him or scare him. Silverio seems fraught with the pain of success. Quite often those who have it feel envy for those who do not. Being in a position of success can often create a void in other areas of life. For instance, most celebrities live a very solitary life. This presents them with a ton of issues that can be created by such a lifestyle. Being in a vast spotlight while feeling lonely cannot be an easy thing to deal with.
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Silverio has a loving wife we meet named Lucia (Griselda Siciliani). They have two children, Lorenzo (Íker Sánchez Solano) and Camila (Ximena Lamadrid). They lost another child whose name was Mateo. This has had a profound impact on the family and his dreams of the event stir emotions that I did not know I had. They present the loss in a way that we can all relate to, but also in a uniquely profound way. Mateo is always with them and will always be with them until they truly let him go. What could have been and what is, is a powerful theme throughout this Cinematic experience.
As Silverio and his family deal with his success and fear of recognition, the story’s parts melt into a bigger vision. Each scene is its own message, its own world, and its own film. All of these come together in a way that provoke thought. I cannot imagine what Alejandro’s family went through while dealing with an actual lost child, but his representation helps me understand how it can alter a family’s perspective.
This film should be praised for its surrealistic qualities and cinematography. Alejandro made one of my favorite films of the year by taking a leap and doing something he has not done before. This is a film where the plot has no consequence on the vision itself. Just like Federico and Luis, he created a piece of thought-provoking art that bounces around through Alejandro’s own mental landscape.
While the film has a political aspect to it, the most important thing is that it gives us insight into the way Americans are viewed from Mexico and vice versa. There is a moment when Silverio is coming back to California, and he is told it is not his home after living there for twenty years. It upsets him because what is America after all but a melting pot of every culture? Home is where the heart is. Once again, the duality of his own life is brought out in his work. This gives the audience a view into an artist’s head. Trust me, it is not always organized up there.
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At one point he has a conversation with his old friend who runs a talk show. Silverio tells him that he “pushes opinions” for a government of a living country but dying people. After watching this conversation, I constantly thought about what I do and why I do it. I also thought of the poverty and the little care for life that comes from drug cartels in Mexico. I have opinions on films just like hundreds of other critics out there. Because of this portion of the film, I realized I do not push opinions on films. I let filmmakers know when they do something I do not think can be sold as art but rather entertainment. Maybe this film was a little long, and it happens to be my only issue with it. Like Silverio, I do not find myself creating art to please others, but to battle my own duality and desire to create. The other stuff is basically “noise.”
Alejandro said this may be his last film, and there are some moments in the film, especially towards the end where he brings this conscious thought to his art. I do fear that he may be telling the truth because this film was not received in an understanding way. This should not influence his decision unless he truly wants to quit telling stories. Watch the film now, let’s assure he doesn’t stop making these experiences.
No Slate Slamming!
Artists never lose the passion to create, and quite frequently great pieces of art can be overlooked for many years. Just think about Vincent van Gogh and how he was not respected within the art world until after his death. The idea behind art is to make it, not to cater to the people who relish in it. Creating for others can convolute Cinema. Alejandro has much prestige in the industry, but do not let this film become Café Terrace at Night. This needs to be recognized now and not after Alejandro slams the slate on his award-winning career.
Alejandro’s step into the surrealistic pool of memories is a snapshot of his mind. How time plays tricks on us and how we always end up where we should be. This is one of his greatest films and reminds me so much of some of the most influential filmmakers in history. Alejandro is an artist that I and any other filmmaker would love to work with. After seeing this film, I only want him to continue bringing me into these worlds he creates, even his own mind. Do not fold your chair sir, we need these sorts of films in Cinema. This is what makes our industry so great and drives the artistic value of Cinema. Not the top-grossing entertaining trash that some studios put out. Although those films are fun and exciting, they lack interpersonal connections and storylines. They do not make you think about society but rather force excitement upon you for a quick payoff.
Perception is Everything
Maybe a quote from the film can sum up all the other reviews I have seen at this point. Camila was sitting in an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Like our memories, it seems to go on forever. Camila ended up telling Silverio “Sometimes what is good for you isn’t best for us. Sometimes things are just what they are.” This is how I feel about this film. If you did not like it, take a dive into the world of surrealism. Let your ideas of “plot” and “story” go. Swim into life’s ever-changing evolution and you might end up right where I began with this article. After all, people push opinions all the time but art is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and my opinion is that this film is beautiful.
My advice for any filmmaker struggling with the way their film is perceived by the public is to go into the production of the film with love and desire to create something you feel attached to. Do not worry about the opinions of others or the thoughts of a people so entrenched in the ways of a broken society with drowning culture. Michaelangelo said, “every block of stone has a statue inside of it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Alejandro made his statue here, he discovered the combination of his own duality. Something we all must confront to further ourselves as humans.
Streaming now on Netflix; ‘Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.’
Director – Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Writers – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone
Mentioned Cast – Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani, Íker Sánchez Solano, Ximena Lamadrid
Released By: Netflix
By Nathan Paul Pasquale
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