“The artist.” In Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu’s semi-autobiographical film Bardo, the protagonist Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is spitting and armed. Silverio, a Los Angeles-based Mexican journalist and documentarian whose work has become increasingly personal over the years, receives a prestigious award for his latest documentary. The upcoming award catalyzes existential thoughts about Silverio’s life, combining fiction and reality, in addition to his return to his homeland.
When Silverio returns to Mexico, his former filming partner, TV host Luis (Francisco Rubio), criticizes him for his lack of journalistic integrity. He involved himself too much in his documentary – as an “artist”. Silverio’s answer? If his work is a “chronology of ambiguities,” it suits him well.
There is little humor to be found in the critical response to Inárritu’s film, which captures so much of the director’s own life (ambiguities and feelings included). Labeled as pretentious and self-absorbed, Bardo cannot escape the same criticism that Silverio suffered. But if art by its very nature is a means of self-expression, Bardot is a masterpiece in this endeavor.
There is self-awareness in the way Inárritu deals with personal criticism in the Bardo. Through the character of Silverio, the director struggles with identity and the sense of homelessness imposed upon him by others (like the film’s US immigration officer, who insists that Silverio is not really American). Addressing the same criticisms she describes in interviews — that she is “too Mexican for Americans and too American for Mexicans” — Bardo is a reflection of her existence as a Mexican immigrant to the United States. In “bardo,” a Buddhist term Iñárritu uses to describe his dual self.
While I can accept criticism of Bardon’s overbearing nature, I have to criticize his designation as “selfish” as it is used as a negative description of him. Even from Silverio’s rare, sometimes ambitious perspective, the film often resonates with the universal human condition. (Who among artists [or the more despised “artisans”] hasn’t experienced Silverio’s impostor syndrome? I’d honestly like to know.)
With gorgeous cinematography from Darius Khondji and direction by Iñárritu, not just Bardo, The False Chronicle of a Handful of Truth is a creative, visual feast; it is also an emotional and spiritual thing. More feeling than fact, this surreal and personal drama sits somewhere between reality and fiction – a wonderful mix for a truly thought-provoking experience.