Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (MA, 160 minutes)
An expatriate Mexican documentary filmmaker about to be lauded with a major award comes home to Mexico City for a weekend to be celebrated by friends and family in the latest from lauded filmmaker of Babel, Birdman and The Revenant, Alejando G. Inarritu.
Gosh, that synopsis makes this film sound so linear, so understandable, so normal, but it is none of those things.
What it actually is, is a deeply personal semi-autobiographical work that owes a lot of the magic realism of Latin American literature, with the filmmaker taking on Latin colonialism, Trump's anti-Mexican bile, Mexican history and a man's mid-life reflection on loss and identity.
Silverio Gama (Daniel Giminez Chacho) has been living in Los Angeles for the better part of two decades since leaving his native Mexico City behind, and in that time the former television news presenter and journalist has carved himself a thoroughly respectable career as a documentary filmmaker, so much so that he is about to receive a major journalism award.
As a man who has made a career of investigating the actions and motives of other people, it's a period of deep self-reflection for Silverio who may not be liking what his self-reflection is uncovering about himself.
And so, despite bringing wife Lucia (Griselda Sciliani) and their thoroughly Americanised teens son Lorenzo (Iker Sanchez Solano) and daughter Camilla (Ximena Lamadrid) with him to Mexico, he begins dodging the parties and accolades that are being thrown for him.
Fleeing the media including his old colleague Luis (Francisco Rubio), who has produced a scathing take-down of Silverio's career for his own TV show, the family take off to a resort on the Baja Coast.
The director is ambitious, and for the most part, the ambition pays off.
Silverio is quite obviously Inarritu, as written in the screenplay Inurritu developed with longtime collaborator Nicolas Giacobone.
The director has himself worked in the United States for two decades and this film, similarly, marks a notable return to his country, and he tries to make the most of the cache and finance (there's Netflix money) he can now bring to a Mexican production.
He is ambitious, and for the most part, the ambition pays off. He loves long scenes does old Alejandro, and sometimes long single-shot scenes, and cinematographer Darius Khondji does not let him down, with inventive camerawork and some breathtaking cinematography.
The film probably is most reminiscent of Fellini's Eight and a Half, an artist's reflection on their life with lots of self-aware nods to the audience, and the action moves between the characters' reality, the filmmaker's reality's and our own.
It's as clever as it is occasionally ponderous at almost three hours long, and I will admit in reviewing this film that, being 50 myself, the filmmaker is really appealing to my demographic and the film probably isn't everyone's idea of five stars. Certainly, the two barely-post-teens in my session, the only other people in the cinema, giggled at the film's one sex scene and then walked out.
It's a shame that, as Inarritu hasn't cast Leonardo Di Caprio or Brad Pitt this time around, it will struggle to find an audience, and what a crime against modern cinema that a few dozen people will probably go see this film in its opening weekend while thousands will line up to see Black Adam.
"Bardo" is a term from Bhuddism referring to the state between death and rebirth, and one scene, where Silverio and Lucia sprinkle the ashes of a child they lost stillborn many years earlier, is a cathartic and very upsetting moment of real beauty. Grown up stuff.
The film is long, and not everything in it works, but even the stuff that doesn't sits head and shoulders above the "content" on most of the cinema's other screens.
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