BARDO: FALSE CHRONICLES OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS (2022)

November 24, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Many filmmakers mine their own lives for projects, making their work personal, revealing, and sometimes invasive. It’s easy to label these works as narcissistic, and by definition, that would be accurate. However, some of the finest films from our most interesting writer-directors fall into the autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical) category. Examples include Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963), Cameron Crowe’s ALMOST FAMOUS, and Woody Allen’s STARDUST MEMORIES. This time it’s Oscar winner Alejandro Inarritu looking inward. Inarritu won his Oscars for THE REVENANT (2015), and his previous nominations include BIRDMAN (2014) and BABEL (2006), and those are in addition to his other standouts: BIUTIFUL (2010), 21 GRAMS (2003), and AMORES PERROS (2000). He’s joined on this project by his BIUTIFUL and BIRDMAN co-writer, Nicolas Giacobone.

The film begins with a Terrence Malick-like dream sequence of a man leaping and flying through the desert as his shadow follows below. Next, we see a woman giving birth in a hospital as her husband lends support. Only this time, the mother and doctor agree that the baby didn’t want to come out, so they put him “back in.” The father is Silverio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho, (BAD EDUCATION 2004, CRONOS 1993), and it’s quite obvious he is representing our real-life director, Mr. Inarritu. A few years later we are informed that Silverio, a respected journalist and documentarian, has become the first Mexican selected for a prestigious award in the United States.

Griselda Siciliani plays Lucia, Silverio’s wife, and she is integral to his life, yet we witness much of his life outside of their relationship. The film struck me as a metaphysical exercise as an artist turns his lens into selfie mode. It seems as though Inarritu is coming to grips … and sharing his philosophy with us … that emotions drive the reality of our truth. Stated another way, truth is an illusion of emotion. Our emotion skews how we view everything. Additionally, he examines (his own) midlife crisis, and the corresponding insecurities, dreams, fantasies, and doubts. And since much of this occurs in his native Mexico, spiritual and cultural aspects enter into what we see, as does the uncertainty of time as an element.

Inarritu and cinematographer Darius Khondji capture some startling imagery, including a sequence on the dance floor, a segment where bodies drop in the street, and a bag of Axolotls being held on the train. Much of the film has a surreal look and feel, but then there are moments that are more emotionally grounded – like the terrific rooftop exchange between Silverio and his friend Luis (Francisco Rubio). In contrast to that heartfelt conversation, there are the moments when Silverio seems to be heard by others without his speaking. “Move your mouth when you speak”, he is told … yet, his thoughts are conveyed.

The use of sound is masterful, and is crucial to numerous scenes. A second watch will allow me to more fully appreciate this aspect. However, at two hours and thirty-nine minutes, Inarritu likely had many thoughts and ideas, and we find ourselves wishing things were a bit tighter on the editing side. Still, while the film may be self-indulgent and ego-driven, it’s also spectacular and stunning filmmaking. There are some slyly comedic touches, and the best may when this Netflix production doesn’t shy away from taking a jab at its competitor, Amazon.

WATCH THE TRAILER


UNCUT GEMS (2019)

December 23, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s debatable whether this movie should be labeled an indie crime thriller or a ‘Scared Straight’ session for gambling addicts. Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie are filmmaking brothers who seem to specialize in adding a frenetic pace to the lives of characters who consistently make bad decisions. Their excellent 2017 film GOOD TIME (starring Robert Pattinson) set the tone for their latest, featuring an Adam Sandler performance unlike anything we’ve previously seen from him.

After a brief prologue at an Ethiopian mine, we are dropped right into Howard’s world. Well, more specifically, we find ourselves on the camera end of Howard Ratner’s colonoscopy, while also seeing the vibrant glow of the rare opal extracted from that opening mine. Remarkably, the colonoscopy may be Howard’s (and our) most relaxing moment of the movie. The character of Howard is based on a guy the Safdie brothers’ dad worked for in the Diamond District when they were growing up. He’s played here by Mr. Sandler, who delivers a performance so memorable that we now can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

Here is what we learn about Howard: he’s arrogant and foolish and energetic and hopeful. He lives life on the edge … or perhaps he’s already tipped. He’s a Jewish jeweler based in inner-city Manhattan, and as the film begins, he owes a lot of money to someone who has hired goons to collect. Howard has an irascible wife Dinah (Idina Menzel, Elsa’s voice in FROZEN) who is fed up with his antics … one of which is his employee/mistress Julia (newcomer Julia Fox). Howard has an insatiable gambling addiction and he’s always on the brink of a life-changing big score or a colossal failure that could cost him everything. He’s a hustler who has to move faster each day to prevent the collapse of his house of cards: sports bets, pawns, loans, lies, and empty promises.

So if you think you now have a feel for this, I can assure you that you are mistaken. The frenetic pace is relentless to watch. We kind of like Howard, but yet, we want nothing to do with him. His latest scheme involves the expectation that the rare opal will solve his many financial woes. In the meantime, his business associate Demany (LaKeith Stanfield) brings him a high profile client … NBA player Kevin Garnett. The film looks and feels like a gritty 1970’s flick, but it’s based during the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, and Garnett plays himself (and quite well). Garnett borrows the opal for good luck and that’s when all ‘heck’ breaks loose. Also in play here is Howard’s rotten brother-in-law (Eric Begosian), to whom he also owes money. Adding even more NYC flavor are Judd Hirsch, John Amos, and sports radio host Mike Francesca, as Howard’s bookie.

Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) provides an electronic score that helps ensure we are never comfortable watching what is unfolding, and cinematographer Darius Khondji (EVITA) keeps his camera in constant motion – just like the characters. Production Designer Sam Lisenco creates Howard’s world through the jewelry shop, the house, the apartment, and especially that back office. Set Decorator Kendall Anderson wins a place in my heart for the Pete Maravich poster.

The Safdie brothers co-wrote the script with their editor Ronald Bronstein (who also worked on GOOD TIME), and afterwards you’ll find yourself going back through all the poor choices made by most every character. The brilliantly sustained level of uneasiness includes a segment featuring The Weeknd, and one revolving around a school play for Howard’s daughter. The Safdie style is present throughout, and most conversations are loud and heated and threatening. If you are the type that needs at least one likable character, or a serene environment, or respectful adult conversation, you are out of luck here. Howard is an exhausting character in an exhausting story within an exhausting movie … just as it was intended.

watch the RED BAND trailer (PROFANITY WARNING):