Sprawling, story-less, Fellini-esque, strikingly conceived (to put it mildly) and somberly meditative, Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths), which I saw last night at 9 pm, is one motherfucker of an older man’s interior dream-trip epic.
Because it’s basically a series of Tony Soprano-ish dream segments, or so it digressively seemed to me…flicked with foreboding and dread and yet darkly amusing. And there’s no way Bardo qualifies as a comedy, by the way…glumly satiric is a better description.
And yet you can’t say that Bardo isn’t delicious — “intermittently brilliant” is how a friend put it — in terms of all the visual seductions and titillations and wild-ass whatevers. It’s a feverishly imaginative, inwardly-focused, interior-dialogue art film that never once shakes hands or even acknowledges the mundane aspects of life as most of us know or perceive them. It’s a dream-realm thing, top to bottom and into the vortex.
“Bardo” is a Buddhist term that means “transitional state between death and rebirth.” Hence the dream-stream.
Understand that the dreams of Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a 50ish hotshot Mexican journalist and documentarian who, like Inarritu, has been living and thriving in Los Angeles with his family for the last 20-plus years…understand that Silverio’s dreams are somewhat darker and certainly more grandiose in a social-indictment sense than the more personalized and modestly-scaled dream sequences cooked up by Sopranos creator David Chase.
Inarritu’s dream trips are more imaginatively complex and cliff-jumpy and (here’s where the indulgent Netflix syndrome kicks in) big-budgety. All kinds of fragments and fantasies and social metaphors and projections of this or that, but most of it boiling down to “who am I and what am I doing?” as well as “fuck all the predators and cheapeners of this planetary existence that we’re all sharing” as well as an occasional “fuck me”.
There’s no debating the instant assessment that came out of the Venice Film Festival, which is that Bardo is Inarritu’s 8 1/2. There are other films in this self-examining, “I’m pissed off because I’m getting old and have run out of fresh ideas” fraternity — Bob Fosse‘s All That Jazz, Woody Allen‘s Stardust Memories, Paul Mazursky‘s Alex in Wonderland and (I’ll bet no one’s mentioned this one) Blade Edwards‘ That’s Life! (’86).
Seriously — the Wiki synopsis of That’s Life! is 90% Bardo: “Harvey Fairchild is a wealthy, Malibu-based architect who is turning 60 and suffering from a form of male menopause. He feels aches and pains, real or imaginary, and seems unhappy with his professional and personal life.”
Bardo often delivers the same kind of long and occasionally mystifying head-trip cards (“intermittently brilliant” means now and then) that 8 1/2 does, but it’s also warmer and more family-embracing at times. (I was especially taken with Griselda Siciliani‘s performance as Silvero’s middle-aged wife.) Stardust Memories is tighter and more entertaining. It’s deeper and stranger than Alex in Wonderland. Portions of All That Jazz struck me as more filling and exciting and urgent than Bardo, I have to say. It’s better than Edwards’ film — I’ll definitely give it that.
And yet portions of Bardo are glorious. I loved certain scenes so much that I didn’t want Inarritu to cut away. The opening desert sequence (a shadow running and leaping and flying, and then falling back to earth) is a wow. There’s a magnificent dance-party sequence that goes on for I-don’t-know-how-long, but it’s so exuberant and crazy-good I got lost in it. Not to mention a sexual episode here and there that did the trick. Not to mention a knockout battle sequence + piles and piles of dead bodies.
And I never once drooped or drowsed — I was completely engaged the whole time. But Bardo is too long — it really didn’t need to be almost three hours. If your film is primarily about fantasy and dreams and moral meditations, shorter is almost always better. Same rule applies to animation.
I don’t know what else to say except that I was walking near a group of 20somethings as I walked back to the condo in the mountain-air darkness, and they were exchanging views in a urgent, passionate way. Fun arguments, “are you saying?’, “wait a minute,” etc. They liked the fact that Inarritu’s film is a real ride. If a film is a dud it puts people into a kind of grouchy flatline mood, but the Zoomers (or young Millennials) I was listening to were aroused. They had just seen a film by a director who’s incapable of jacking off in any sense. That amounts to something of considerable value.