Round-up Roulette ’22 – Bardo (2022)

The title is indeed a mouthful, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how unapologetically bold and wildly creative Bardo: False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths truly is. Easily one of my favorite films of 2022 and that’s why I circumvented the Wheel and bumped it in.  

A well-known Mexican journalist/documentarian, on the precipice of receiving a prestigious honor for his work in America, is forced to confront the insecurities regarding his professional career and what that means for his cultural identity while also grappling with substantial family trauma. 

Have you ever started a movie and asked yourself: “What have I gotten myself into?” Well, that was definitely the case with Bardo. After the first few minutes, I could completely understand someone walking away from this one. It’s a very unsettling start and it gets weirder from there so, if that’s not your bag, I totally get it. Sure, it’s completely bizarre and dreamlike and it’s hard to tell what’s really going on more than half the time, but the originality here is completely off the charts and this kind of filmmaking needs to be celebrated! 

When I previewed this movie for my Release Radar back in November of 2022, it had a substantial amount of buzz and rightfully so. Alejandro G. Iñárritu is a five-time Oscar winner (including the Special Achievement Award for the virtual reality project Carne y arena), with two Best Director wins and a Best Picture under his belt. So, Netflix securing his services for this was a massive deal, especially as they continue to push for more recognition. The on-paper part of the arrangement brought another iconic foreign filmmaker to the streaming giant’s table, but what we got on film was something incredibly personal, profound, and more rewarding than just recognition.

Iñárritu and Nicolás Giacobone teamed up once again to pen the screenplay and while I was watching the movie I kept having to ask myself what the script must have looked like in order to produce the kinds of things I was seeing on the screen. I am happy to see that at least Darius Khondji got an Oscar nom for Best Cinematography because the shot-making in this film is spectacular. There are some massive ideas being floated and one particularly dizzying one-shot gives life to this lingering sense of disembodiment that permeates the film. It’s even more impressive that (to the best of my knowledge) this was the first time Khondji had worked with Iñárritu and the results were this dazzling. I give a ton of credit to Eugenio Caballero’s production design as well because there are some hallucinatory moments that are important to the context and immersion of the experience, and it takes a lot of skill to pull it off. In fact, there were times when I was wondering if I had accidentally taken an edible because the experience was so hypnotic that it was making me feel high. 

The stunning visual footprint aside, getting a little more space from it gave me a much greater appreciation for the personal story at the center of this otherworldly journey. The story is, after all, about a Mexican-born man, who transitions from journalism to filmmaking and then finds the heights of his success away from his home country which creates a real identity crisis. That parallels pretty closely with the director’s own life, on a number of fronts, and the resulting experience is extremely personal. Yes, it’s told with an imaginative flare and plenty of humor to elevate the tone, but there is also a very strong current of emotional trauma running underneath. I won’t presume to call this completely autobiographical, but there is a reason the lead character grapples with these particular themes. Food for thought.  

Since I am on the subject of the main character, Daniel Giménez Cacho is excellent as Silverio. He is going through a lot and one of my favorite aspects of the performance is that he isn’t processing anything in a straight line. In turn, the audience doesn’t really know what’s going on 100% either because we are on this journey with him. Cacho was incredibly nimble in his portrayal as he navigates a number of different emotional hills and valleys and it took an amazing amount of skill and fluidity to handle each of those notes differently, whether he’s in the process of self-deprecating in the dark corner of his home or stuck like a deer int he headlights of talk show he didn’t even go on or dancing the night away. 

This is, undoubtedly, a story about Silverio’s experience but a big part of his story belongs to the relationship he has with his wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani), his daughter Camila (Ximena Lamadrid), and his son Lorenzo (Íker Sánchez Solano). There is a lot of complexity in the character design between Silverio and each of his family members and each of those supporting characters brings an important piece of the puzzle to the table. 

It’s tough to explain the experience I had watching this movie, but I know that I was completely entranced. Oddly enough, it’s actually very similar in its structural approach to All That Jazz which popped up as the first film of the month for The Sheist International Film Club’s March Musicals month. Bardo ups the ante with the cinematography, choreography, and overall visual style, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Iñárritu was heavily influenced by the ethereal style of Bob Fosse’s 1979 film. 

The nearly 3-hour runtime was certainly a deterrent when it came to committing, but I’m ultimately a bit sad that I didn’t watch it in theaters because I could have sung its praises much sooner. It’s easily one of the most creative pieces of cinematic storytelling that I have seen in a while and wound up being one of my favorite films of 2022 and it’s shocking that this movie didn’t get more love.

Recommendation: Netflix went big here and got something very unique. It’s especially worth checking out because you’ll know within the first few minutes if it’s for you.

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