LFF 2022 Review: Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Surreal & Excessive 'Bardo'

October 10, 2022

Bardo Review

As someone who has recently decided to move abroad, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu's new film instantly needed to be added to my watchlist for the 2022 edition of the London Film Festival. Despite a filmmaker with only seven films in total in his portfolio, the writer-director has achieved a high status in Hollywood, and thus, any of his films usually get my attention. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths got a pretty divisive response at its 2022 Venice Film Festival premiere last month, and while I understand the reasons behind the more negative takes, I'm relieved to be on the positive side with this one.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Bardo is one of those movies where everything matters and (practically) everything gets its respective payoff at some point. Whether it's a radio in the background reporting an outrageous Amazon acquisition, or a seemingly irrelevant visual detail hidden in the frames, or even a particular sound (we think) we've forgotten two minutes later, Iñárritu demonstrates outstanding attention to detail. Every scene is expertly shot through long, uninterrupted takes, with camera work, editing, framing, and blocking all worthy of a true master filmmaker. The entire cast, led by the extraordinary Daniel Giménez Cacho, as Silverio flows between dialogue and constant repositioning as if being an actor was an easy task.

This is right where Iñárritu manages to make his film shine. Bardo's narrative reaches its peak of genuine emotional investment when it focuses on this filmmaker father's interactions with his wife and children, mainly when they revolve around the debate on how much immigration has impacted each family member's ambitions, motivations, and overall life. The hypocrisy surrounding the discussions about the contrast - and similarities - between living in the United States of America or in Mexico is something I can honestly relate to, with some dialogues being almost word for word with my own conversations with family and friends.

(Un)fortunately, "excessive" is the best adjective to describe Bardo. Iñárritu's movie is one that both manages to take its technical prowess and transform every sequence into yet another epic moment, while using those same attributes to alienate viewers and break any emotional connection that may exist or be built. Iñárritu and co-writer Nicolás Giacobone's screenplay ventures along the paths of docu-fiction and surrealism, recreating historical events that non-American and non-Mexican viewers will struggle to relate to or even understand. Add to that – you guessed it – an excessive amount of absurdity and bizarre visual effects, and lo and behold, the film becomes a true roller coaster.

Bardo Review

Just like the cinematic opening sequence – I'm afraid watching this streaming won't sink audiences into its immersive atmosphere – Bardo fails to be narratively consistent, going through ups and downs due to switching its primary focus between personal / family arcs and the more "historical", ridiculous sequences. The extensive runtime is undoubtedly weighty, even if it still depends on the general culture of the viewers concerning the two countries addressed, as well as the personal connection to the more in-depth themes: immigration, identity, success, and family. If there are a few scenes that never deserve to end, there are also many moments that make you look at the clock.

Something that can help tremendously take your mind off how long some of these scenes are – as it did for me – is that Bardo is irrefutably one of the most visually stunning movies of the year. I defend using the generic catchphrase "it's a theater experience" for this movie, even if the audience ends up not enjoying it overall. From the sound design – so powerful that you can almost feel the wind hitting your face – to DP Darius Khondji's splendorous cinematography, the only detail that removes the icing off the "technical" cake is the unreasonable amount of absolutely perfect endings that close out the film, which the director frustratingly prefers to ignore and delay a climax that's already predictable and protracted.

Final Thoughts

Bardo works best when it focuses on the dynamics between father, mother, and their children regarding immigration and how this drastic life change impacts each member of the family nucleus. Writer-director Alejandro G. Iñárritu takes advantage of all the awe-inspiring technical elements to build a story worthy of the big screen, but it still lacks tonal consistency and narrative control. "Historical" recreations with q.b. surrealism only make the runtime feel heavier, and if it wasn't for Darius Khondji's superb cinematography along with exceptional set and sound design, this film would have been in more trouble. Fortunately, there's a lot more to be enjoyed than to feel frustrated.

Manuel's London Rating: B
Follow Manuel on Twitter - @msbreviews / Or Letterboxd - @msbreviews

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