‘Bardo’ weaves an extravagant and complex dream



“Bardo: false chronicle of a handful of truths”

Rated R. At Landmark Kendall Square and Dedham Community Theatre.

Rating: A-

Oscar-winning Alejandro G. Inarritu (“The Revenant”) draws inspiration 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 who doesn’t look like him.

Beginning with shots of a running human shadow trying to fly across a desert, “Bardo” is a dreamlike “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” art house with “8 1/2” elements of Fellini (1963), starring Fellini’s great alter ego, Marcello Mastroianni, as the director’s replacement. Prolific, aquiline-faced Mexican actor Daniel Gimenez Cacho (“Cronos”), arguably not Mastroianni but sympathetic, stars as journalist-turned-documentary filmmaker Silverio Gama (Gama is the surname of Inarritu’s father). Silverio is in a hospital hallway waiting for his beautiful wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani) to give birth as the action begins. Strange things are happening. Next thing we know, Silverio is on the Expo Line train to Santa Monica with a bag full of water and some strange amphibious creatures inside. Notably, the music for these scenes recalls the oom-pah styles of Fellini’s muse, Nino Rota (“The Godfather”). Life is a circus.

In Tibetan Buddhism, Bardo is a state of transition between death and rebirth. In “Bardo”, the film, Silverio, in his sixties, seems to be going through a kind of existential crisis. He brings his family back to Mexico from their Los Angeles home on the eve of the day he will receive a prestigious award. Like Inarritu, Silverio is already a French Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. He suffers from impostor syndrome and was teased as a child for being “ugly” and had a dark face and was nicknamed “darkie” by his siblings and friends.

Yes, “Bardo” is self-indulgent and at 159 minutes (still) too long. But this kind of intellectual, intriguing, extravagant and personal epic is an endangered species. The things that nag Silverio – mortality, dead parents, the meaning of it all, water leaks – nag me too. Sometimes “Bardo” is reminiscent of the classic “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, Silverio often jumps into his past. Silverio is a family man, close to his wife, teenage son Lorenzo (Iker Sanchez Solano) and daughter Camila (the talented Ximena Lamadrid). They go to a lavish party thrown in his honor, where he dances lustfully with his wife and is harangued by a furious TV host.

In another scene, Silverio finds himself on a city street. The sound of bells. People around him start collapsing in the street. Is this a zombie apocalypse? Later, the natives will form a mountain of corpses which Silverio will climb to speak to the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, no less.

Shot on location in Mexico City and at the historic Estudios Churubusco, “Bardo” is something of an alternate 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 small body (or ashes) of the child who refused to be born at sea. Visuals by Darius Khondji (“The Lost City of Z”) give to “Bardo” a burnished liveliness. All movies are like dreams. The scintillating “Bardo” is even more so.

(“Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” contains sexually suggestive scenes, nudity, profanity and violence)


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