Connect with us


‘Bardo’ Harnesses Every Cinematic Craft to Tell a Story Both Epic and Intimate



This story was created in paid partnership with Netflix.

In Tibetan Buddhism, “bardo” refers to a transitional state between death and rebirth. It’s a soul’s opportunity to glimpse the true nature of things and to escape the tether and cycle of reincarnation. It is that void, where time and logic cease to exist and memory becomes an unreliable construct, that Alejandro G. Iñárritu sought to explore with Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truthshis most complex, towering, and above all, personal work to date.

“I never prepared for a film so much,” the Oscar-winning director of Birdman and The Revenant says. “It was a journey of five years from writing to production. Each one of the film’s sequences was conceived, built, rehearsed, drawn, rehearsed again, and explored at length in intention, motivation, internal rhythm, staging, lighting, and camera movement. It was a plan executed well in advance, with a precision and absolute control that none of my other films have demanded from me.”

Courtesy of Netflix

On its face, Bardo is a portrait of an immigrant — journalist Silverio Gama, a quasi-surrogate for Iñárritu portrayed by actor Daniel Giménez Cacho. Like Iñárritu, Gama moved his family to Los Angeles amid his own rise to cultural prominence, yielding a sense of divided identity. “Migrating is a way of dying, of being born again and reinventing oneself,” Iñárritu says. Within that narrative construct, he sought to further explore ideas of belonging and even notions of a nation’s collective consciousness, as the film plays like a love letter to the vibrant historical complexity of his native Mexico.

But to conceive a cinematic dreamscape in the mind and, abstractly, on the page, is one thing. To bring it to actual life requires the spirit of collaboration in an art form that melds disparate crafts and trades together in an ultimate expression of self.

Courtesy of Netflix

“I put a visual grammar into practice,” Iñárritu says, “one capable of flowing between close-ups, medium shots and long shots in a liquid form, thus weaving, invisibly, events happening in different times and spaces at the border between reality. and imagination.”

In his first collaboration with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Darius Khondji (Evita, The Immigrant), Iñárritu sought a sense of perpetual movement with that visual language. The duo started by taking inspiration from photographer Vivian Maier, painters Paul Delvaux and Giorgio de Chirico, and even filmmakers Roy Andersson and Federico Fellini. Early on they adopted a large-format aesthetic, shooting on the Arri Alexa 65 camera with wide-angle Panavision lenses that were designed for the film.

“It’s not the definition that interested me, it was the presence of the actors,” Khondji says. “This camera has a great presence.”

Everything was pre-conceived a year in advance, including many extended takes that required incredible precision to achieve. From a first-person, trancelike perspective at the beginning of the film depicting a shadow passing quickly across a desolate landscape while attempting to levitate, to a jam-packed sequence set at the famed El Palacio del Baile California dancehall, nothing about Iñárritu’s vision was simple, even if all of it was definitive in its conception.

The art direction, therefore, was exhaustive and immersive in its many details. Almost every single one of the 51 sets created for the film was enormous in scale. Iñárritu worked with Oscar-winning production designer Eugenio Caballero (Pan’s Labyrinth, Rome) in translating his wildest dreams into practical magic. Silverio’s apartment, for example — already stuffed with pieces of personal identity and lived-in warmth — was flooded with water on a Mexico City soundstage before being dismantled and transported 180 miles away to the Baja desert, where it was then flooded again, with sand. . The set involved fly-away walls that opened and closed with hinges and pulley systems, dams to divert water in specific directions and much more.

Courtesy of Netflix

In another sequence, Caballero helped Iñárritu conjure his very own large-scale art installation, of sorts, as Silverio first traverses the streets of modern-day Mexico City before ascending a mountain of piled bodies leading to explorer Hernán Cortés. The sequence was staged in the middle of Zócalo square, built at the center of the former Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which became the foundation of the city as we know it today.

“For me, it is important to understand that there is another way of looking at the city,” Caballero says. “The downtown streets were all transformed. We worked on every facade so that every piece of graffiti, every bit of urban art, had a particular meaning. We went facade by facade, curtain by curtain, tone by tone. We left some stores the same, but others we transformed so that they could have a mixture of epochs.”

The aforementioned El Palacio del Baile California was a considerable challenge as well, given that it is long past its heyday and was in need of structural support before Iñárritu and company could even take it over and shoot there. Once it had been completely revamped from a design standpoint, Caballero then brought in hundreds of mirrors to assist Khondji in his elaborate lighting plan, which involved a series of cues set on a dimmer board to adjust the lighting in real time as they shot. The complexity required weeks of rehearsal to refine and calibrate.

That scene was also a bear for the film’s sound team, which had a wide variety of aural tasks to tackle throughout. Iñárritu says that, even before he starts the writing process, he ponders the role of music and sound in his films. What we hear in a movie is raw, the director notes. It’s a frequency that hits the body, that isn’t analyzed like the visual information of cinema. That’s a rich opportunity for him to connect with his audience in a primal way.

“Alejandro’s memory of sound is unparalleled,” says sound designer Martín Hernández. “He can remember resonances, reverb time, levels. Bardo is about his memory, or the way memories interact.”

In the dancehall, production mixer Santiago Núñez laced the set with dozens of lavalier mics, booms, rigs and planted devices to pick up every nuance he could. The resonance of the real location was a particular treat. One show-stopping moment in particular features David Bowie’s popular song “Let’s Dance,” a cappella, and like everything else in the film, there was clear intent behind the choice.

Courtesy of Netflix

“All the music that I used was written into the script,” Iñárritu says. “Very early, I had this crazy idea of ​​using the song a cappella. I wanted people to submerge into a radical point of view with the character. In this dream state, when you sing a song that you like, you just mumble the lyrics. That’s how it sounds in your consciousness. You strip the music away. I wanted that sensation. It’s a moment of joy for Silverio.”

The result is a shot that unfolds over several minutes tracking in and around some 800 extras as Silverio rejoices in a sea of ​​revelers.

In the end, the many tools at Iñárritu’s disposal as a filmmaker come together to construct a work that is at once intimate and epic. It’s a reflection of national pride and personal identity, from an artist at a crossroads, eager and able to communicate those thoughts and feelings to a broader audience through the power of cinema.

Check the latest Hollywood news here.