Bardo: A wildly imaginative, semi-autobiographical account
“Artiste.” The descriptor is spat out and weaponized against protagonist Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) in Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu’s semi-autobiographical film, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. Silverio, a Los-Angeles-based Mexican journalist and documentarian whose work has become more personal through the years, is receiving an esteemed award for his latest work of docufiction. The upcoming award, in addition to a return to his home country, catalyzes existential thoughts about Silverio’s life that blend fiction and reality.
When Silverio returns to Mexico, his former filmmaking partner, TV host Luis (Francisco Rubio), lambasts him for a lack of journalistic integrity. He’s put too much of himself into his documentary–so like an “artiste.” Silverio’s response? If his work is a “chronicle of uncertainties,” that suits him just fine. “I’m tired,” he says, “of saying what I think and not what I feel.”
There’s not a little humor to be found in critical response to Iñárritu’s film, which contains much of the director’s own life (uncertainties and feelings included) within it. Labeled as pretentious and self-indulgent, Bardo can’t seem to escape the very same criticism Silverio suffers. But if art by its nature is a means of self-expression, Bardo is a masterpiece in that endeavor.
There’s a self-awareness in the ways Iñárritu engages with personal criticisms in Bardo. Through the character of Silverio, the director wrestles with identity and a feeling of homelessness too-often imposed onto him by others (like the U.S. immigration officer of the film who insists Silverio is not truly American). Addressing the same criticisms he’s described in interviews–of being “too Mexican for Americans and too American for Mexicans,” Bardo is a rumination on the in-betweenness of his existence as a Mexican immigrant to the U.S. It’s his own wildly imaginative and personal take on the word “bardo,” a Buddhist term Iñárritu uses to describe his dual self.
While I can accept criticisms of Bardo’s overlong nature, I have to decry its designation as “self-indulgent” as it’s employed as a negative descriptor. Even from Silverio’s unique, at-times pretentious perspective, the film often-times resonates with the universal human condition. (Who among artists [or the more despised “artistes”] has not experienced Silverio’s impostor syndrome? I’d sincerely like to know.)
With superb cinematography from Darius Khondji and direction from Iñárritu, not only is Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths an imaginative, visual feast; it’s an emotional and spiritual one too. More feeling than fact, this surreal and personal drama lies somewhere between reality and fiction–a beautiful blend for a truly thought-provoking experience.
Read More: Bardo Ending Explained