Capsule Review: Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022)

The world’s too f***** up

That’s what the (CGI) baby whispered to the doctor, who proceeded to tell the mother after a childbirth scene. What happens next, well, you have to see it for yourself. In fact, the first six-minute prologue from the wordless leaping-shadow-on-the-desert scene to the childbirth moment is best described as uniquely bonkers. Even possibly unlike anything you have seen this year. It was a promising start in Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, which marks writer-director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s long-awaited comeback after The Revenant seven years ago.

Here is what you need to know about Iñárritu’s latest film: Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths follows the Mexican-born documentary filmmaker and journalist Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who has enjoyed decades of a successful career in the US and even sets to receive an award for journalism. Then, we see him returning to his home country as he deals with everything from appearing on a talk show to reuniting with his family and friends and many more throughout an epic 160-minute length.

Iñárritu goes full-on experimental here, blurring so much between reality and fantasy as we witness Silverio’s existential journey that covers multiple elements and themes — mid-life and identity crises, immigration, Mexican history, sense of belonging and whatnots. Clearly, Iñárritu has a lot of things he wants to say here with Cacho’s Silverio Gama practically serving as the director’s alter-ego. It was equivalent to an autobiography, albeit in an unconventional way of fragmented storytelling. And that’s fine if Iñárritu can make it riveting enough to keep us hooked or invested throughout the film.

A scene from Netflix's "Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths" (2022)

Personally, as much as I really wanted to like his latest film, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is surprisingly a rare misfire from Iñárritu. I love most of his previous films, notably Babel (2006) as well as Birdman (2014) and The Revenant. He’s one of those world-class international filmmakers who just couldn’t go wrong each time he came up with a new film worthy of attention. And more so if you are a movie fan. But after sitting through Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths which feels like an eternity, I began to wonder whether his back-to-back Oscar wins for Best Director for Birdman and The Revenant have inflated his ego to the point he becomes overly self-indulgent in his latest film.

The thing is, everything here feels oddly disconnected and it’s hard to root for whatever Silverio is experiencing or feeling in his journey. This, in turn, makes the film devoid of a much-needed emotional weight and what we left here is a hollow piece of filmmaking. I couldn’t care less about any characters here regardless of the lead actor (Daniel Giménez Cacho in a comatose-like performance) or the supporting cast. Even by the time the film reveals what really happens to Silverio, it barely matters because of the way the story is told.

If anything worth positive to say about this film, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is a technical triumph for Iñárritu’s impressive Steadicam shots and the use of fish-eye lenses. Some of the kooky visuals are worth mentioning here including the pre-credits sequence and a scene aboard the Metro Expo Line train flooded with water and pet fish. Well, if only the story and characters are just as good as the camera work and the visuals here, we would have another winner from Iñárritu.

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is currently streaming on Netflix.