A man wants to fly in the first few minutes of this film, you see his elongated shadow in the evening desert, look through his eyes, he hastily runs to get going, it doesn’t work on the first try. Of course, lifting off the ground reflects the situation of Alejandro González Iñárritu, one of the most ambitious filmmakers in the world – but also the situation of cinema in general, which has been exploring the possibilities of the camera for over a century, the new perspective in the age of technology reproducibility of the world. With unmanned drones capable of extreme mobility, the cinematic gaze has achieved limitless freedom and lightheartedness, it has become subject-free, a vision without a visionary. Anthropocentrism is from the movie theater gone. Only the shadow remains on earth as a pledge of overcome gravity.
After seven years, Iñárritu presents his new one with “Bardo”. Movie. The high flyer in it, the fighter against gravity, is Silverio Gacho, a successful Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker, played as a double for the director by Daniel Giménez Cacho. Silvio wants to free himself from the down-to-earth nature of the story, his own and that of his country Mexico, whose national colors are present in the film’s credits.
But there are always opposing forces. Once you will see Silverio in a deep sleep on the ground, hard to wake up, later, in a hectic dream vision, his foot is nailed to the ground so that he cannot move. In another vision one sees him walking through Mexico City, around him rows of people on the street fall to the ground and remain lying there. It is the first film that Iñárritu is back in Mexico filmed, more than twenty years after “Amores Perros”. It’s a privilege to live abroad, says Iñárritu, he has used the productive estrangement of the foreign country of America in his films, and has done so successfully – winning the Oscar for Best Director for two consecutive years, for ‘Birdman’ and for ‘ The Revenant”, two masterpieces of egomaniacal cinema.
For him, his fame in the USA is like a twisted form of colonialism
Silverio is also a border crosser in space and time, he lives and works in Los Angeles, but now he is about to receive an important prize in Mexico and is returning to his home country, where he moves like a Latin American Don Quixote. He’s afraid of the confrontation, skips a big talk show. Fame in the USA, the house he runs there, is like a twisted, perverse form of colonialism for him. “It’s the first film,” says Iñárritu, “where I felt the need to keep my eyes closed, and when you do that you look inward, and that’s a much more complex territory…”
Between this world and the afterlife, reality and dreams, Silverio moves on his frontiers, and the realm of the dead often looks frighteningly like our real world. There are surreal encounters with his father, who keeps him small in a nasty way, and with Hernán Cortés, the conqueror, who welcomes him on a mountain of corpses. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Bardo describes a border area between death and rebirth, a no man’s land.
The film is inspired by the magical realism of South American literature, by Borges and Fuentes and Octavio Paz, reminiscent of films by Buñuel or Glauber Rocha. A film without a fixed structure, says Iñárritu, it only has an emotional center of gravity: “But it was made with complete control, every single frame, every movement was mapped out and rehearsed.” The bombastic, the egomaniacal has an absolutely empty center – that was already noticeable with Fellini, when he spectacularly illustrated the suffering of a successful filmmaker in “Eight and a Half”, with Marcello Mastroianni.
“Bardo” was screened in competition at the Venice Festival, after which Iñárritu shortened it by twenty minutes. This version has Netflix bought, and before the streaming service programs it exclusively, it will be shown for a short time where the film belongs: in cinemas, on the big screen.
Prior to Bardo, Iñárritu made a virtual reality installation in Los Angeles, Carne y Arena (Flesh and Sand), for which he interviewed hundreds of immigrants who crossed the border in dire conditions about their experiences. At the end of “Bardo” such experiences are alienated into the absurd, on the return journey from Mexico Silverio casually says to the young passport officer “America, this is my home”. He shouldn’t say that, the official corrects him, and a bitter fight almost ensues over the word – even the military gets involved. “Maybe,” says Iñárritu, “I’m too Mexican for the Americans and too American for the Mexicans.”
Bardo, the invented chronicle of a handful of truths, Mexico 2022 – Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Book: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone. Camera: Darius Kondhji. Music: Bryce Dessner, Alejandro González Inarritu. With: Daniel Gimenez Cacho. Griselda Siciliani, Ximena Lamadrid, Iker Sanchez Solano, Jany O. Sanders, and Andrés Almeida. Netflix, 159 minutes. Theatrical release: 17.11.2022. Streaming start: 16.12.2022.