“Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”
Rated R. At the Landmark Kendall Square and Dedham Community Theater.
Academy Award winner Alejandro G. Inarritu (“The Revenant”) takes a cue from the great Italian maestro Federico Fellini with the comedy-drama “Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” and turns a mirror on someone not unlike himself.
Beginning with shots of a running human shadow trying to take flight in a desert, “Bardo” is a dream-like, art house “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” with elements of Fellini’s “8 1/2” (1963), featuring the great Fellini screen alter ego Marcello Mastroianni as the director’s stand-in. Aquiline-faced, prolific Mexican actor Daniel Gimenez Cacho (“Cronos”), arguably no Mastroianni but likable, plays journalist-turned-documentary filmmaker Silverio Gama (Gama is the last name of Inarritu’s father). Silverio is in a hospital corridor waiting for his beautiful wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani) to give birth at the start of the action. Strange things happen. The next thing we know, Silverio is aboard the Expo Line train to Santa Monica with bag full of water and strange-looking amphibious creatures inside it. Notably, the music in these scenes recalls the oom-pah stylings of Fellini’s muse Nino Rota (“The Godfather”). Life is a circus.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Bardo is a transitional state between death and rebirth. In “Bardo” the film, 60-ish Silverio appears to be experiencing some sort of a existential crisis. He takes his family back to Mexico from their home in Los Angeles on the eve of the day he will receive some prestigious prize. Like Inarritu, Silverio is already a French Chevalier of the Ordre des Artes et des Lettres. He suffers from impostor syndrome and was made fun of as a child because he was “ugly” and had a dark face and was dubbed “darkie” by his siblings and friends.
Yes, “Bardo” is self-indulgent and at 159 minutes (still) too long. But this sort of intellectual, soul-searching, extravagant, personal epic is an endangered species. The things nagging Silverio – mortality, dead parents, the meaning of it all, water leaks – nag me as well. At times, “Bardo” recalls Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, Silverio often leaps into his past. Silverio is a family man, who is close with his wife, adolescent son Lorenzo (Iker Sanchez Solano) and college-aged daughter Camila (talented Ximena Lamadrid). They go to a lavish party thrown in his honor, where he dances lustfully with his wife and is harangued by an infuriated TV host.
In another scene, Silverio finds himself on a city street. Bells toll. The people around him begin to collapse in the street. Is it a zombie apocalypse? Later, indigenous people will form a mountain of corpses that Silverio will climb in order to speak to Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, no less.
Shot on location in Mexico City and at the historical Estudios Churubusco, “Bardo” is in some ways another version of Inarritu’s own 2014 film “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” a film about an actor trying to escape the confines of a definitive role with an unforgettable Michael Keaton. In fact, Inarritu co-wrote “Bardo” with his “Birdman” co-writer Nicolas Giacobone. In the third act of “Bardo,” Silverio and his family return the tiny body (or the ashes) of the child who refused to be born to the sea. Visuals by Darius Khondji (“The Lost City of Z”) give “Bardo” a burnished vividness. All films are like dreams. The glittering “Bardo” is just more so.
(“Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” contains sexually suggestive scenes, nudity, profanity and violence)