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In Netflix’s Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, Daniel Giménez Cacho stars as Silverio Gama, a renowned documentarian who is set to receive a prestigious award for his career as a journalist upon his return to his native Mexico after living with his family in Los Angeles for decades. The epic black comedy, which is Mexico’s official Oscar submission for best international feature, is an extremely personal project from four-time Oscar-winning writer-director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who likens his latest film to the Mexican soup called pozole — “a mix of an enormous amount of things” — that speaks to the shared loneliness of the immigrant experience, particularly for those who feel without a homeland. The film sees Gama weaving throughout his own memories and the present day as well as interacting with figures central to Mexico’s complex history and culture. In writing the film’s script, Iñárritu turned to “the great auteurs” of Latin American literature, among them writers Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, whom he describes as “outsiders who took the world by storm” with their literary achievements. The music of his youth, particularly concept albums from prog rock bands like Pink Floyd and Genesis, also worked their way into Iñárritu’s dreamlike film, as did the work of Spanish director Luis Buñuel and American photographer Vivian Maier.
The Chicago-based photographer, whose prolific work was discovered shortly before her death in 2009, captured hundreds of thousands of images of everyday people she encountered while exploring the Midwestern city. While most of her work was in black and white, Iñárritu says that her color photographs inspired the film’s palette, particularly during its more ethereal moments.
Iñárritu considers Octavio Paz one of the greatest Mexican writers. “This is the most accurate description of the feeling of being Mexican, no matter where you are in your country or outside the country,” says the director. “He wrote it when he was living in Europe, with a distance that it requires. … For me, it’s a bible or an X-ray of a Mexican soul, with a lot of reflections and emotions that triggered for me what was crucial for the film.”
The great surrealist auteur Luis Buñuel, who made films in France, Mexico and his native Spain, was a major influence on Iñárritu. The Bardo director says Buñuel’s 1974 dark comedy, a series of vignettes skewering social mores and ideals, is a particular favorite. “It is the most sophisticated, liberating way to do a film with no narratives or with no structure,” says Iñárritu. “Bardo isn’t a story without story — it is a walk in the consciousness of the character.”
Iñárritu says he was an avid fan of the progressive rock movement, and this 1974 concept album by Genesis — the band’s last to feature original frontman Peter Gabriel — tells the story of Orion, a Puerto Rican immigrant living in New York who confronts questions about his identity. The evocative cover art, designed by English design group Hipgnosis, shows a figure that Iñárritu describes as “a spiritual presence [who sees] himself being trapped in all these vignettes in black and white.”
A crucial moment in the film is a sequence in which Gama and his family party to Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Iñárritu says that song in particular exudes joy and makes the listener, in his words, “almost want to smile to death.” In the film, the track is stripped down to just Bowie’s vocals, creating an otherworldly sense as Gama loses himself in the music on the dance floor.
This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.