"I was afraid they would humiliate me, me a laughing stock. Because the whole thing is a joke. I go around seeking approval from people who despise me. I act before I think, hoping to get what I want, then when I do, I detest it. And then I'm ashamed I ever wanted it."
—Mexican documentary journalist Silverio Gama
The power of word association as revelations, insights, uncertainties, patterns, and social relations, is what happened to me when I first saw the trailer for BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths by Mexican filmmaker and five-time Academy Award Winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu, I associated and disassociated with Antoine Volodine's novel, Bardo, or Not Bardo. For Volodine, names – first, last, middle, invisible, pseudo, non-existent, and invented (as are all names) are universes that create.
So, this is not a review of BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, but simply a first response and a suggestion to check out this film, as well as any of Volodine's twenty-plus books.
"BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is an epic, visually stunning, and immersive experience set against the intimate and moving journey of Silverio, a renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles, who, after being named the recipient of a prestigious international award, is compelled to return to his native country, unaware that this simple trip will push him to an existential limit. The folly of his memories and fears have decided to pierce through the present, filling his everyday life with a sense of bewilderment and wonder."
BARDO is an elegantly hilarious unraveling of film's cinematic doing – storytelling and revelation – through a critique that unravels the possibility of a linear narrative – as you watch a beginning, middle, and end – of sorts. At the same time, we watch the unraveling of a man and his relations with his worlds while critiquing how media technologies are unraveling social ties. Some may write that it is an absurd film. Though you have to pay close attention, BARDO also unravels that designation, that category, as the film reveals the egotistical, self-centered individuating process of being as a dominant social logic of modernity sold to us as freedom and capitalism. Absurdism is another story. No spoilers here.
BARDO is also a rapaciously elegant, hilarious, critical film, employing real and Alanis Morrissette's irony in deceptively clear, apparent, and obvious ways. A large, magnificent, wonderous cinema, and also a hybrid fictional documentary of sorts that genuflects a social self-reflection – of the main character, Silverio, or perhaps of media making and cultural capitalism in general. Amazon, the company, wants to buy Baja California, after all – in the movie, to be clear, but let's be honest, it seems that most land has a price. BARDO is comically layered and creamy like a tres leches cake, dripping with sticky irony, invoking bone-rattling humor, visually unreal, and sometimes disruptive in a profoundly familiar way.
The cinematography is continually expanding from the granular and local; images circulate through the background that reveals a generative context for the universal, larger-than-mid-life crisis landscapes interconnect with the minutia that reveals the secrets of the big bang, a vibe both stunning and hypnotic – if you see it on your magic screen at home, you can pause and take in the spell-bounding wonder that is genius composition. The soundtrack is a collective narrative arc, dancing cinematic eruptions that rhythm the sometimes disjointed and utterly jaw-dropping shifts in scenes, design, and ecology of what is meticulously and hand-crafted presented to us. Iñárritu plays, creates, disrupts, and weaves on the border between effect and affect, familiar expectation and audacious surprise.
In case you are hopefully still wondering about Antoine Volodine, Bardo, or Not Bardo,
"takes place in his universe of failed revolutions, radical shamanism, and off-kilter nomenclature.In each of these seven vignettes, someone dies and has to make his way through the Tibetan afterlife, also known as the Bardo, where souls wander for forty-nine days before being reborn with the help of the Book of the Dead. Unfortunately, Volodine's characters bungle their chances at enlightenment: the newly dead end up choosing to waste away their afterlife sleeping or to be reborn as an insignificant spider. The living aren't much better off and make a mess of things in their own way, to the point of mistaking a Tibetan cookbook for the holy book."
At the end of Iñárruti's film, we are left with a question about where Silverio Gama actually is during the film, and where he is at the end – "Bardo, or not Bardo?" The afterlife, or not the afterlife.