There are few filmmakers in the world more talented and exciting than Alejandro G. Iñárrituwhose prior features — Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Babel (2006), Biutiful (2010), Birdman (2014) and The Revenant (2015) — were each tremendously well-reviewed and, at the very least, Oscar-nominated. As you will probably recall, the Mexican filmmaker won the best director Oscar in back-to-back years, for Birdman and The Revenantthe former of which also won best picture and the latter of which probably came damn close, solidifying his place in cinema’s pantheon.
But the reality is that nobody who has ever directed films on a consistent basis — from Griffith to Hitchcock to Spielberg — has batted 1.000 in the eyes of critics or the Academy. It seems all but certain that Iñárritu’s latest film, Bardo — which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival and drops on Netflix on Oct. 22 — will be his first that doesn’t click across the board.
Bardothe title of which, for the record (I’ve been asked a lot), is not a reference to the 87-year-old film legend Brigitte Bardot, but rather is a Tibetan word that means the stage between death and rebirth, tells the story of an acclaimed Mexico-born, US-resident genius whose family has experienced the loss of a loved one and, in a sense, of their home ( they are neither fully Mexican nor fully American). However, he still seems to have plenty of reasons to be happy (fame and fortune, professional acclaim, a beautiful family), and yet never really feels happiness.
In the Spanish-language film, the man in question is an investigative journalist and documentarian named Silverio (played by Daniel Giménez Cacho), but given the character’s gray beard, wily long hair and other personality attributes, he’s pretty clearly modeled after Iñárritu. There are shots in the film in which Giménez Cacho looks exactly like his director, and other times when he looks like an older Bradley Cooper.
As THR‘s chief film critic David Rooney noted in his review out of Venice, the film displays “exacting craftsmanship, shifting with beguiling fluidity between dream and reality with ravishing visuals, shot on 65mm by the great cinematographer Darius Khondji.” But the overall response to it has been bleak. It’s at 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, with most critics finding it way too long (with a runtime just shy of three hours) and pretentious (as an adversary of Silverio essentially states in the film). Even its full title, Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths)is long and convoluted — although it’s only fair to note that Birdman‘s full title was Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Many have compared it unfavorably to Federico Fellini‘s 8½ (1963), but I actually think the film that most effectively achieved what Bardo was trying to achieve was Charlie Kaufman‘s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York (2008).
Perhaps most problematic for a film that most people, including Academy members, will consume via a streaming service in their home — where it’s even easier to get distracted or just bail on a movie that isn’t gripping you than it is in a theater — is that there was a steady stream of walkouts from its Telluride screening.
Even if Bardo falls out of the “above-the-line” Oscar races, it is still a real possibility to show up in “below-the-line” categories like cinematography and production design. And I imagine that like Iñárritu’s Amores Perrosas well as another film handled by Netflix, last year’s Prayers for the Stolenit stands a strong shot at being Mexico’s entry for the best international feature Oscar competition.
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