At 8:45 pm mountain time, the Werner Herzog Theater looked about halfway full with patrons sitting down for the North American premiere of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s latest film “Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths)” at the Telluride Film Festival. Maybe it was the 174-minute runtime after a long day of screenings that kept viewers at bay. Nevertheless, just shy of midnight, there was a round of applause as the credits rolled. Though it’s unclear what exactly what everyone was clapping for — perhaps themselves for having survived this rambling opus of cinematic over-indulgence.
After debuting in Venice, where the Oscar hopeful was pummeled by critics, the Netflix awards pony was looking for a comeback stateside to, at the very least, lift its Rotten Tomatoes score, which currently sits in the low 50s. Those numbers are likely to remain depressed.
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To be frank, Iñárritu probably doesn’t need to clear out his calendar this awards season. It would be hard to imagine “Bardo” having the chops to even represent Mexico for the international feature category, let alone make the shortlist. But it’s not clear what else would even be selected to represent the country.
How disappointing. The semi-autobiographical film, which follows a documentary filmmaker who returns home to confront a series of existential crises, marks Iñárritu’s first outing after winning two consecutive Oscars for best director – for “Birdman” (2014) and “The Revenant” (2015). The expectations were high for the auteur’s big return.
Iñárritu has always been an outstanding visual storyteller, so recruiting the great Darius Khondji to shoot the flick mostly pays off. Along with production design and sound, these are three places the film could find Academy traction. Along with serving as the director, writer and producer of “Bardo,” Iñárritu is also the film’s composer; the score is my favorite technical element of the meditative drama. If it qualifies, it’ll be interesting if the music branch will give him a fair shake in that space. Anything beyond that seems pretty unlikely.
If the Oscars nominated performers based on their phone’s step counter, then lead actor Daniel Jimenez Cacho would be a shoo-in. Otherwise, his endless strolls through deserts and dead body mountains won’t inspire awards attention.
“Bardo” will have its defenders. They’ll argue the critics are wrong and they’re either not smart enough to understand it or are too culturally inept to comprehend the profound point Iñárritu is making. Truthfully, I’m not sure even Iñárritu knows what he was going for here.
“Bardo” is being billed as his most personal film — Iñárritu’s “8 ½,” the kind of film in which he wrestles with all the demons and influences that made him a great filmmaker. The problem is that struggle unfolds over an excruciating two hours and 20 minutes. Iñárritu obviously needed to work through something personally, which should be admired as all art expressed leaves someone vulnerable. But most people won’t be too interested in going along for the ride.
One important note to consider when discussing the film’s Oscar chances is when you look at Iñárritu’s six previous directorial features — “Amores perros” (2000), “21 Grams” (2003), “Babel” (2006), “Biutiful” (2010), “Birdman” (2014) and “The Revenant” (2015) — none of them have been completely shut out of the Oscar race. It would be smart to expect “Bardo” in at least one spot.
False or not, this is a chronicle of a handful of truths they’d sooner skip.
Read Variety’s Awards Circuit predictions to keep up with the latest Oscar race updates.
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