Alejandro González Iñárritu explains why he cut 22 minutes from new film ‘Bardo’

Alejandro González Iñárritu explains why he cut 22 minutes from new film ‘Bardo’
What do you do when you win the Best Director Oscar twice in a row. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took several years to find the answer. After experimenting with virtual reality in 2017, the director of Birdman and The Revenant is back on screens with Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths — a film that moves seamlessly between fiction and reality, between events taken from the director’s own life and others from the history of Mexico. When Bardo was shown at the Venice Film Festival, it lasted three hours. But the version of Bardo that hits movie theaters this weekend and lands on Netflix next month is about 22 minutes shorter. EW spoke to Inarritu about his editing decision, how he views critics, and how modern society has become a bizarre mix of fiction and reality. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directing Daniel Gimenez Cacho on ‘Bardo. ‘

| Credit: Limbo Films, S. De R.L. de C.V. Courtesy of Netflix

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You won Best Director at the Oscars two years in a row, not a common feat. How long did it take to decide what your next film would be?

I think an important project that I did before Bardo was Carne y Arena (Flesh and Blood), which was a virtual-reality installation about immigration. I interviewed hundreds of immigrants who had crossed the border in dangerous situations. This installation was very personal and powerful for me. It was an experience that brought me closer to the immigrants.

I have spoken about immigration in two films, Babel , and Biutiful ,, but this installation of virtual realities brought me closer to that experience in a way that has never happened to me. This film is a result of that experience. In a way, it was necessary for me to speak about it from my personal perspective and my own experience. It sounds like you were inspired by the journey of these immigrants to think about your own journey from Mexico.

Exactly, exactly. I am a “first-class immigrant” as I state in the film. My experience is 0. 00011 percent of what millions of people go through. Regardless of how successful the experience, we all share the strange and graspable feeling that we are not from this place or from here. This is the main point of this film.

That makes sense because while I was watching the film, I was wondering why you had Silverio be a documentarian as opposed to a director of films like yourself. But it sounds like that scene where we see a clip from one of his movies where he’s interviewing these immigrants as they’re walking was influenced by your experience with Carne y Arena.

Yeah, I think this film navigates between reality and fiction and imagination. The world we live in right now is trying to navigate between these two worlds. You don’t know what is true and what is fiction.

I believe that journalists have the ability to look for truth while also interpreting it from their own perspective. As a filmmaker, I believe that sometimes you have to do research and get sources from the real-world. Then you can use fiction to get to a higher truth. In a way, it was interesting for me to allow this character navigate and question these two approaches to life and be uncertain of both.

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Daniel Gimenez Cacho in ‘Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. ‘

| Credit: Limbo Films, S. De R.L. de C.V. Courtesy of Netflix

Lately, it feels like ever since Alfonso Cuaron made Roma, a lot of veteran filmmakers have started producing their own films like Roma, about their childhoods, their parents, the neighborhoods they grew up in. It was refreshing to see Bardo ,, in contrast, being rooted in the present and current worries. Have you ever thought about making a movie about your childhood? What made you choose to focus on the present?

No, I barely remember my childhood. I envy those who can rebuild their lives from this foundational time. Unfortunately, I don’t have such access. I probably think that only these last 25 years could possibly inform me of who I was and who I am, and that’s why the fabric of this film is made of what I can guess. I can only recall vaguely and I don’t claim truth or that this is an autobiography. Autobiographies are a lie and hypocrisies, I believe. The only thing we can claim is the emotional conviction of these memories, as the characters state. This is what I create through thoughts, reflections and fears as well as dreams. This is why the film’s fabric is so elusive but so emotionally true. This is the best way for me to share where I am right now, without any certainty.

Your name is everywhere in the credits of this film. You were also responsible for directing the film. How was it to collaborate on such a personal film? What contributions did your collaborators make to the film?

This film was a huge, major enterprise, and I was lucky to collaborate with some of the best people in the world: Darius Khondji, Eugenio Caballero, Nicolas Giacobone in the writing process, and Bryce Dessner with the music; Anna Terrazas. It was incredible to have such a great team of collaborators. It would have been impossible without them. Because the process was so lengthy, I needed them. It took me four long years to write the script. I also had to get involved in the editing. These were areas that required my involvement, but I was able to do so with the help of some of the most talented people in the world and my family.

Was this your first time working on the music of one of your films?

Yes.

What was that like, working with Bryce Dessner?

It was amazing because Bryce did the third act of The Revenant and we became very good friends. I was trying to capture the tone of the film as I wrote it. It’s important to get the music for the film before you start shooting. The rhythm, atmosphere, and tone are all important. I was whirling out Oaxacan songs, which have beautiful metal sounds that are utterly out of tune. It’s very special and only a Mexican can understand those sounds. So I just wrote down a few ideas over two years of whistling and Bryce was enthusiastic about it so he invited me to join him in his work. He’s the genius so it was an honor for me to be able to contribute with what I could.

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Daniel Gimenez Cacho in ‘Bardo. ‘

| Credit: Limbo Films, S. De R.L. de C.V. Courtesy of Netflix

Another collaboration I’m interested in is the one with your star, Daniel Gimenez Cacho. Your career has seen you work with many great actors. How was it to work with Daniel and create the character of Silverio.

I sat down with him, and we had this dinner, and I realized that he’s from the same generation. His life is very similar to mine. I was shocked to hear that he had been to therapy and that he had told me some things based on those. It was a kind of cosmic encounter. I knew that he was not only a great actor but that he was also a wonderful person. His energy was just right to convey some things I wanted.

He took every moment of this character, which was an alter ego, and made it his own. He built all the relationships he had from his experiences, including the one with his two children. He has two children the same age as mine. He made the film his own, so he was able to experience all the elements in his own way. He didn’t think about me at all. He loved Silverio as a character and went through a very personal process while making the film.

When Bardo premiered a couple of months ago at the Venice Film Festival, many of the write-ups focused on it being three hours long. But the version that’s coming to theaters this weekend and Netflix next month is about 22 minutes shorter. How was the editing process? What inspired you to edit the film more?

I finished the film just two days before going to Venice, so I never had the chance to see it with an audience. It was in Venice that I first saw the film with an audience. It was clear to me that I had the opportunity to make the film thinner, but without altering the essence of the film. I felt I could make scenes shorter and get to the point quicker, without sacrificing any of the film’s essence. Editing is a fun and endless process, especially when the film is so open. I would have loved to have more time, but I couldn’t. The film must be released due to a festival date or scheduled release. I was happy that I was able just to feel it and put in another few weeks of work. It was very easy for me to get to the final cut, which I am very happy with.

Do you think you’ll continue to fiddle with the film?

Yes, if I could. Filmmaking is never finished. It’s an endless process. It’s similar to writing an article. You go through several drafts before you decide on the final one.

Yeah, this happens to me. When I think an article is complete, I feel like it’s not. Then, once it’s out there in the world, I wonder, “Why did I leave that in?”

Exactly. There are always ways to make it stronger. It’s an endless process and I was able to experience it.

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Silverio Gama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) confronts his harshest critic in ‘Bardo. ‘

| Credit: Limbo Films, S. De R.L. de C.V. Courtesy of Netflix

There’s a character in this movie, an old friend of Silverio’s, who rips into him at the party and criticizes all these things about his documentary, some of which we then later see in the film. It reminded me a lot of the critic character in . Are you imagining the criticisms and trying to incorporate them into your films when you write or work on them?

No, I think I can be harsher with myself than anybody else. I believe we all have a co-pilot voice that can guide us in any direction, good or bad. That’s a natural state. Every human being has a mind that is persistent, and I have been very aware of it. In a way, I can see what the mind will say, how predictable it is, and how judgmental and superficial it is. It’s like two sides of the brain. The left side demands logic and chronology, while the other side is completely free and unattached to any particular idea.

I like to observe these two natures. I am not a critic or reviewer. I am interested in how each side of our brain works and how it interacts with the other. I try to find a dialectic between them, how they see the world and how to navigate through it. The film is in every sense dialectic. You are a father and a son. You experience death, life, success and failure, fiction and reality. This is one of the dualities that I use to approach the film.

How did you think about the more surreal elements? The film opens with the tragic death of a baby. We see it from both a magical and real perspective.

I think this film is a walk in the consciousness of a character. It’s a story that doesn’t have a story. These are the very elusive things that make up the film’s fabric. It’s our rational mind trying make everything rational. If we look deeper, we see that we are made of these memories, these fear, these events, which then later becomes an elusive emotion or feeling, that is floating in a material, real way but in the emotional way that we remember it. This is the one I leave. Because the event is over, the film is made from emotional representations of it. However, the way you process it and remember it helps it grow, mature and assimilate. You can then free yourself from it. The character said that “People are gone, but the ideas are what stay.”

My wife and I lost our child. It was difficult to process. But then you can feel compassion and laugh about it. That’s liberation. This is what I am referring to: things are not what they seem. It’s how you view them that matters. This is how I did it and that’s why cinema exists. Godard said that “Life is a film poorly made.” In a sense, when you make film, you’re trying make something better than life.

Another element of the film that straddles this line between reality and perception is the running idea that Amazon is buying the Mexican state of Baja, California. The film’s characters are still struggling with their national identity. Are we Mexican? Are we American? There’s a shadow of multinational corporations becoming more powerful than national sovereignty. What were you thinking?

I think that’s the world we are living in now. I don’t think that we are too far away from that. I don’t think that we are too far away from films made by artificial intelligence without human intervention. I saw a six-minute film that was made by computers. It was amazing.

So, what I’m trying to say is that we’re seeing things in the world that no one’s talking about. Corporations not only control the world’s narrative, but they also have more resources and money that countries. It will make people happy to be part of a corporation more than to governments. There’s humor in that. There’s also irony and contradiction. The internet is a bridge between reality and fiction when you read the news. It is impossible to say “Oh, this is real” or “This is unreal.” Bardo are the answers. In a way, it is going to be a crazy and outrageous world. It was a funny point of humor that I wanted to include, based on this crazy dream.

Another scene that really stands out I think is that conversation with Cortes. How did you approach that scene, and how did you build the huge mountain of corpses they are standing on?

It took me a lot of work. This film was visually the most difficult that I have ever made. It’s a cinematic experience that is both brutal and immersive. It’s why I urge people to see it in theaters. It opened last week in Mexico on 500 screens for seven weeks, so it’s an unprecedented thing for Netflix, and it’s in IMAX. Because scenes like those are so large and intensely visual, you should see it in IMAX.

I shot it in the Zocalo plaza, which is in the heart of Mexico City. It’s right where the Aztec Empire built the pyramids. The cathedral was built from the remains of the pyramids that were destroyed. Since I was a child, I have been imagining the stories about the conquest, how it happened, and what it looked like. You may have seen photos of Teotihuacan. It was the Venice of America. It was beautiful, even though it was just water channels. When the Spanish arrived, they wrote, “This city is the largest we have ever seen, with the most amazing hydraulic engineering.” Now we are not there. It was very beautiful and interesting to shoot it in the exact same place where all these things took place. Because it was so precise, I had to storyboard it all. The rest of it is physical. Everything is physical, and then there are some visual effects. The government allowed me to leave downtown for three hours so I could shoot there. We had a wonderful morning filled with Mexican dark clouds. It was a very lucky day to find the right mood. It was beautiful. In this film, you engage not only with your emotions but also with the ghosts and history of where you are.

Yeah, it was an exercise of trying to reconcile my personal intimate memories with the collective memories of a nation. These are the big events, but also the most intimate. We are part of our ancestors’ stories and our personal narratives, both in a collective and individual way. It was a Whac-A-Mole exercise in order to get the whole thing in there. This film is a state, it is an atmosphere.

Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths , is currently in theaters and will be available on Netflix Dec. 16.

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