Alexander G. Iñárritu is on the final day of his whirlwind festival experience, wrapping up a few interviews in Telluride before escaping for a much-needed family vacation. He began this journey with a stop at the Venice Film Festival, where his latest work, Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths), premiere before arriving in Colorado. Here he attended more screenings of the film, did a Q&A with Barry Jenkins and attended a Saturday night soiree for the film that turned into a dance party with much of the cast.
“Opening a movie is a combination of excitement and giddy at the same time,” he says Vanity Fair on Sunday morning. “You always feel that vulnerability.”
But for Iñárritu, Bardo is something new. Like with The return or Birdman, the film is technically astounding, full of big swings and daring moments. But unlike his previous work, Bardo is much more personal. Drawing on his own memories and dreams, Iñárritu explores a myriad of issues he has faced in his own life, from immigrant identity to grief and mortality.
The story centers on a Mexican journalist turned documentarian (Daniel Jimenez Cacho), who after some success moved his family to the USA. But he struggles with his own identity when he discovers that neither place feels like his place.
Likewise, Iñárritu left Mexico and moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 37 years old. Now almost 60, the director sees his own two children form their identities growing up in a country that is not their homeland. There are many other points of inspiration taken from Iñárritu’s own life and loss, but he mostly uses them as a starting point for a film that is full of absurd and surreal moments. We dove into how this movie came about, what he thinks of the initial reviews, and when—or if—he’ll be making another movie.
You mentioned that you started working on Bardo five years ago. But it’s full of so many big ideas. What was the first spark of the idea for this?
My kids are growing up and obviously things have become more complicated because it’s like a branch on a tree when it starts to grow, the branch needs roots but the roots are far away. So I think this sense of displacement began to fill my soul and it was an attempt to recover my memories, which are impossible to understand because they are only memories. So somehow you make up for them by reinterpreting them. It’s not about me; I think I’m just using some of my experiences and feelings to make something very, very special and very honest. Even fiction requires you to be very honest.
Exploring the question of identity when you no longer live in your own country but also don’t feel welcome in your new one is something that millions of people who have immigrated will understand.
I did it the best way I could, the most honest way, with humor and no bitterness. It’s almost like two lives: the previous one and the one you have, and everything becomes very elusive, like a dream. And so I wanted to give the quality of the movie that it’s almost like a dream, you know?
You mention it’s fiction, but there are many parallels, including the family unit being the same as yours. Did you have conversations with your wife and children about how much of their own lives would appear in this film?
They knew. I always let them know that this is absolutely fiction, but at the same time, as an artist, I think you have to use your sources of understanding. There were a few things we talked about as a family and I was always very, very open and very respectful of their point of view. But whatever happens, it obviously takes courage because he is vulnerable. And the misunderstanding of people thinking it’s self-indulgence — No. It’s not about that. It is really to expose and express emotional things that are related to human feelings and circumstances that we share with millions of people. I think for me the process for us was healing and cathartic.
You mention the vulnerability of this project. Does it being such a personal story change how you take feedback and feedback on it?
To be honest, I didn’t read any of the reviews all the way through. Apparently the team gave me some notes and I know that was misunderstood on many levels. I respect everyone’s opinion. I think everyone has a heart and everyone has a mind and can draw their own conclusions. From what I understand, one of the things people have said is that it’s self-indulgent or narcissistic. I think I have a right as a writer and director to access my emotional baggage. I think that’s the best source I can use for a movie and especially for this movie.