Staff Writer Rachel Suleymanov attended a discussion and screening of Alejandro Iñárritu’s new film Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths at the Lenfest Center of the Arts yesterday.

On Wednesday afternoon, I asked Academy Award-winning director Alejandro Iñárritu what his new film Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths would sound like if it was a song. The former DJ immediately replied, “exquisitely out of tune.” 

Iñárritu, at once scruffy and impeccable, presented his new feature at the KOB Screening Room in Lenfest on October 26 as part of the Carla Kuhn Memorial Speaker Series. Director and Columbia University film professor Ramin Bahrani moderated the conversation. Iñárritu spoke humorously of his past, which seems to contain everything at once: he spoke of directing advertisements in Mexico for 10 years and getting his theater work destroyed by the harsh but brilliant director Ludwik Margules. He spoke of his imposter syndrome and meditating with a Vietnamese monk. He spoke of his identity and Mexico. He spoke of guilt and memories. 

Iñárritu claimed that while “memory lacks truth, it possesses emotional conviction.” Little did the audience know that he was quoting the film he was about to present. Bardo is a phantasmagoric, whimsical presentation of the memories of Silverio Gacho (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a successful, yet sorrowful documentarian and Mexican ex-pat who has resided in Los Angeles for two decades. Though Iñárritu insisted the film isn’t autobiographical, one feels he is inextricably intertwined with Silverio. He, like Silverio himself, took his family to live in the US for only a year, but “it ended up being 20.” He, like Silverio himself, struggles with cogent imposter syndrome and the suffocating guilt of leaving his home country behind. 

Silverio and his family take a trip to Mexico to attend a celebration in his name after he was announced a recipient of a prestigious award. There, he is invited to talk shows, reconciles with old friends, and is constantly confronted with criticisms of his abandonment. The film’s treatment of time is seamlessly edited with no clarity on what is past, present, future, or real. At some point, while playfully chasing his vivacious wife, Lucia (Griselda Siciliani), Silverio enters a closet and somehow stumbles into the room of his son, Lorenzo (Íker Sánchez Solano). There, a young Lorenzo claims, in his best attempt at a whisper, that he’s just had a dream of Silverio chasing Lucia. These temporal idiosyncrasies beautifully define the film. 

Iñárritu also suggested the film sounds like something you could play at a wedding and a funeral. 

Humor and tragedy coalesce into the very “exquisite out of tune-ness” he previously promised. That is to say, what’s humorous holds tragedy at its core, what’s tragic is humorously grave. In one scene, Silverio meets his deceased, smiling father in a mucky bathroom. Suddenly, Silverio’s body becomes childishly small, though the size of his head remains unchanged. He is moved by his father’s posthumous validation, as he tearfully says something along the lines of, “Hearing that would have really helped me when I was younger.” His father’s defense: “I did the best I could.” Thus, Bardo’s emotional anchor lies in themes of inadequacy, in fatherhood, in age—sort of in everything. 

Visually, the film is lavish and boundless in palette; it’s neon red, hospital white, glittery pink, luxuriously gold, deeply purple, softly blue. It’s entirely made up of wide shots. It’s stunning, dazzling, desolate, bleak. The film, like Iñárritu, is everything at once. It is life washing over Silverio in one gigantic, splendid, crashing wave: relentless and overwhelming, one is forced to feel it all. 

Iñárritu claimed that his meditations helped him defeat the menacing, self-sabotaging “co-pilots” in his head. That is, imposter syndrome. It might seem these thoughts still haunt him, however, as he preemptively weaves criticisms against him in Bardo. At some point, Luis, the host of a talk show, chides Silverio for a scene in his documentary where he has a conversation with conquistador Hernan Cortes. Luis claims it’s self-indulgent and that Silverio filmed it just because “that’s how he had it in his head.” But because the film so cleverly occupies a fantastical space defined by an inexactness, it’s unclear whether Luis ever said this to Silverio at all. Iñárritu’s film leaves us with some questions: what will I remember? And, can my inadequacies shape that which I recall? 

Iñárritu leaves us with echoes of self-judgment and incompleteness even in the realm of intimate memories. Bardo begins and ends with that tender bittersweetness that comes with living to the best of your abilities and failing to be everything at once. 

The film will be released on Netflix on November 4, 2022.

Alejandro Iñárritu and Ramin Bahrani via Bwog Staff