Release Date – 18th November 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 40 minutes, Director – Alejandro G. Iñárritu
A Mexican documentarian (Daniel Giménez Cacho) returns to his homeland after receiving a prestigious award in the US.
For those who aren’t fans of Alejandro G. Iñárritu, particularly his more recent works such as Birdman and The Revenant, it’s perhaps unlikely that you’ll be turned around by Bardo. With Bardo Iñárritu appears to take influence from his own life (with the help of co-writer Nicolás Giacobone), particularly following from the awards success of his previous two films, and injects it into the experiences of central figure Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho). Change an Oscar or two for an equally prestigious award looking at an entire career of work and we see the journalist-cum-acclaimed documentarian travelling from the US to his homeland of Mexico, revisiting his roots and, as you would perhaps expect, confronting both his past and his identity.
Along the way there’s plenty of strange fantastical elements into which many of the events are transcribed. The film opens with the idea of a baby wanting to be put back into the womb when it realises how dark and cold the world is, before the umbilical cord which trails behind the mother gets stuck in a pair of swing doors. It’s undeniably strange, but an undoubtedly enjoyable kind of strange, particularly when it comes to the opening of this almost three hour story.
While this style isn’t as frequent as you might expect, or hope, it certainly pops its head in every now and then to guide Silverio’s mind as the film as a whole feels relatively free from an overall narrative. Sometimes knowingly playing into, and prodding at, the early statement that “life is nothing but a series of idiotic images. Exposure at any price” before returning to Mexico truly appears to bring back his imagination, teased in the opening shot of a shadow trying to fly in the desert.
With such a long run-time there’s chance for things to go off the rails quickly and for the film as a whole to seem like a long slog. However, there’s plenty within Iñárritu’s seemingly now signature one-shot style to engage and keep things flowing throughout. Not just the fantastic visuals, courtesy of cinematographer Darius Khondji. As a whole the film avoids feeling overlong, however there are individual sequences which themselves feel quite lengthy. While, of course, it’s difficult to cut some of these down due to the one-shot style, the film appears to have been served well after having been cut down by around 20 minutes since its debut at the Venice Film Festival.
It’s often when ideas don’t quite seem to properly click, or generally feel thinner and therefore more drawn out, that sequences feel longer than they should. Yet, there’s still plenty to enjoy aside from the visuals. Cacho makes for a highly enjoyable lead with plenty of charm as he captures the delight of his character in the middle of a large dancing crowd and the more emotional aspects of his familial relationships, and when being questioned as to where his real home is when at US border patrol. It’s a wonderfully performance that, while his character is guided by the occasional fantastical elements and those around him, wonderfully leads the film, acting as the consistent through the events for the viewer.
Bryce Dessner’s score occasionally feels like it could be playing in the background of some form of wacky sitcom, when it leans into this feeling the most it works best when accompanying some of the closing stages where the film begins to rather entertainingly wrap itself up. There’s plenty of comedic moments throughout the film and a couple of chuckles which bring about a lightness to the proceedings, and even the moments which stand more in the line of the the dramatic.
The overall tone and blend of the film works well and manages to keep you engaged throughout as it tackles its various themes and ideas within the narrative-light linked events that construct it. Some may feel a bit long but as a whole the film avoids an overlong feel thanks to the interest and engagement formed within the fantastical elements which lead its well-performed central figure. For those who are yet to get on with Iñárritu this likely won’t change anything, but for those who have enjoyed his more recent works, and even enjoy something a bit more on the strange side, then this may work rather well particularly when it knows how to run with certain ideas without spreading them too thin, or too high.
For those who have liked Iñárritu’s more recent works there’s a fair deal to enjoy within Bardo, particularly the strong visuals and occasional drifts into fantasy. A strong central performance from Cacho acts as a likable consistent through the largely entertaining events which while some individual points might feel a bit drawn out, fill the film as a whole rather well.