Alejandro G. Inarritu is perhaps one of the more interesting filmmakers Mexico has ever produced. In fact I have enjoyed several of his movies. Amorres Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, and Birdman are all films I regard highly. The Revenant is actually the first of his features where he slightly began to love me. And now with Bardo, I am starting wonder what has happened to Inarritu that he is now overindulging in messy ridiculousness that fails to come together with a coherent message.
Not everything in this movie is bad, though. I must take a step back and actually praise and laud what he does so well here. Bardo is one the most visually gorgeous and meticulously cut films to get released this year. Working with cinematographer Darius Khondji, Inarritu delivers a visual experience that is striking, surreal and absolutely beautiful. Inarritu, who actually did the editing of his film, does an outstanding job of flowing and transitioning his sequences and scenes, that his work here could be a clinic for student filmmakers craving to learn technique.
It is the wriing, though, that is so muddled, sloppy, and so damn confounding at times, that if he does have something to say about his art, I still don’t know what that is. The film tells the story of fictional Mexican director Silverio Gama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), an artist who has achieved both success and acclaim as a documentary filmmaker. Having spent much of his career based in Los Angeles with his loving wife and children, Silverio decides to return home to Mexico to reunite with old friends and family who stayed behind, in order to celebrate having been offered a very prestigous award. In this journey, the artist must confront many feelings and emotions about his life, his background, and the criticisms he has encountered as a filmmaker.
The film definitely comes across as a long bizarre dream/nightmare for protagonist Silverio. In presenting this journey Inarritu pays homage/borrows/steals concepts, imagery, and beats from other filmmakers who have obviously had an impact on his work and art. There are certainly heavy shades of Fellini’s 8 1/2 and even some of the works of Bergman, particularly Wild Strawberries. The problem is that those legends of film more competently and more coherently tell their stories, and do so with haunting, amusing, and beautiful visuals.
Inarritu has the visual presentation down pat, but can’t seem to tell this story to save his life. Another complaint I have is that, in the movie, Inarritu often uses Silverio to represent himself and utilizes the character to face the critiques and challenges to his work that he has received during his career. In the film, Silverio acknowledges the criticism, but then Inarritu turns around and over-indulges in the very things that draws much ire from his critics.
Bardo is a bizarre case of artistic cannibalism and vampirism from other better artists. And this is coming from someone who actually enjoyed several of his movies. I don’t know what is going on with Alejandro Inarritu recently, but it is definitely having a very negative effect on his work and art.