Multiple Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu has returned to his Mexican roots with Netflix’s Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. While there are some personal elements in the film, it is not an autobiography, rather what he prefers to call an “autofiction.”
The movie, which is Mexico’s entry for the International Feature Oscar, documents one man’s cultural rediscovery as he leaves Los Angeles and returns to Mexico. After receiving a prestigious award for his work in journalism and documentary filmmaking, Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is compelled to re-examine his roots. Upon arrival, he contends with embarrassing memories from the past and an existential crisis.
During a panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International award-season event, González Iñárritu said, “This is a film that came from some experiences and images and emotional things that I have been going through from being an immigrant and these last 20 years… But the source of the film comes from the subconscious. It’s material that is not factual, it’s more of an emotional kind of state where I used it and then through fiction, I fictionalized it and then in a super alter-ego. I know well this guy, but it’s not a portrait of me.”
How did Cacho come on board? “We had a very long chat drinking mezcal,” Cacho said. The filmmaker “wanted to know what was the moment I was living now spiritually with my family, in the work, how I see my past, my future, etc. — and then he decided the role was for me because he found a lot of coincidences with him, but he never asked me to portray him.”
The film has a dreamlike surreal quality and González Iñárritu said, “Normally in films that I have done, things clash. … Here, everything is blended with light and always something is off, the light is moving.”
He said he asked Cacho “not to rationalize” and “not to react to things but to respond, which is different, and just observe as if we are in a lucid dream.”
In fact, González Iñárritu told the actor he shouldn’t even read the script.
For Cacho, a big difference with this film was that he “never constructed the character, I never designed it. … We forgot all about that and it was just every morning, ‘How do you feel today? That’s the way the character is going to be today.’ That’s a brilliant opportunity that I am so thankful to Alejandro to work in that way. He gave me the opportunity to have a profound and inner dialogue with myself and actually I found a new way of working.”
Added González Iñárritu, “When we are dreaming, we are aware we are dreaming, and we are just observing things. They can be really weird or dangerous, but we don’t react.”
Praising Cacho, he also said the most challenging aspect was for him “to not be constructing or acting, but to be present and be honest with the moment through his eyes and being lucid, seeing things and responding accordingly to what he was sensorially experiencing — which for me is the highest form of acting or being in front of a camera.”
The filmmaker opined, “Art exists because life is not perfect, life is not enough, and art allows thankfully to reinterpret, to survive, to overcome pain and wounds. That’s why all these things are a dreamlike quality which are not biographical, but it’s a way I translate it in fiction and dreams because the film is made of memories and images and fears and all those things. … Cinematically the challenge was how to translate all those slices of very immaterial things in an idea, then in a sequence, and then to flesh them out… The production design was to pre-visualize how this should feel because this is not crazy or hallucinatory or magical, this is cinema made by light and shadows and slightly offbeat things that have to blend.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.