Guillermo del Toro defends divisive new film Bardo: ‘Anyone confused about the plot, my condolences’

Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has shared some sparring words for those “confused” by Alejandro González Iñárritu’s newest film Bardo, False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths.

Since Iñárritu’s drama comedy made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in early September, followed by its theatrical release last week (18 November), it’s received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike for being too “indulgent” and “tedious”.

At the time of writing, the movie, which follows the deeply personal story of Silverio Gacho (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a renowned Mexican journalist and filmmaker, holds a critics rating of 57 per cent and an 83 per cent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

“It’s audacious, bold film-making, a highly personal work that is cluttered with symbolism and bloated with self-regard,” The Observer’s Wendy Ide wrote, with Time’s Stephanie Zacharek, similarly finding it “exhausting”.

“Iñárritu has a lot of thoughts and feelings, and he apparently sought to stuff them all into one movie,” Zacharek added.

However, while moderating a recent Q&A for the film at Los Angeles’s Academy Museum on 18 November, del Toro opened the introduction, praising Iñárritu, saying (via IndieWire): “The movie is undeniably one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in terms of cinema, pure cinema.

“To anyone that is confused about the plot and what it is about, my condolences. The fact is the movie’s called Bardo, which means limbo, and it starts with a guy that tries to fly but the path weighs him down, and ends with him finally flying, and they don’t f***ing get it? I’m amazed.”

Daniel Giménez Cacho in ‘Bardo: False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths’ (Rodrigo Jardon / Netflix © 2022)
Daniel Giménez Cacho in ‘Bardo: False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths’ (Rodrigo Jardon / Netflix © 2022)

The Pinocchio director continued: “What is very hard to explain is that everybody here, everybody on the screens, it’s extremely hard to explain how one of the aspects that has been the least [talked-about] of this movie is the cinema of it, and I find it absolutely flabbergasting.

“Seeing a Van Gogh and asking for an opinion, and the opinion is, ‘Well, it’s about some flowers in a pot.’ The flowers are OK, the pot is nice, but nobody talks about the brushstrokes, the colours, the thickness of the paint, the colour palette. It’s astounding to me,” he added.

Joined on stage by Iñárritu and others from the cast, del Toro said: “Everybody here did an incredible job at what they did. Every single shot and every single thing is one of the highest states, and the hardest thing to pull off, in cinema. Almost every shot.”

Iñárritu responded to his fellow filmmaker, joking: “You should write the review.”

After the Venice premiere, Iñárritu cut down the movie’s cinema version by 22 minutes, explaining to Canada’s The Globe and Mail that “there was a very clear moment for me when I saw the film for the first time with 2,000 people in a theatre”.

“I finished it two days before going to Venice, so when I saw that, I saw the opportunity to make things clearer, to get to the point of the film without affecting the essence of the film. It’s like going on a diet. It’s the same person, but in better shape,” he said.

Bardo, False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths is out in cinemas now.