Bardo, that space of the Buddhist religion that transfers the soul from life to death, is the last journey, the immigration that awaits us all. In 'Bardo' he deconstructs the identity of the emigrant who, like Iñárritu himself, forms his family far from his roots to find himself, despite success, feeling like a man without a country, a displaced person who is not even from here, the United States, nor from there, in his case Mexico.
Like any other Iñárritu project, 'Bardo' comes with a pedigree and has been selected by Mexico to represent its country in the upcoming Oscars. Netflix, which releases the film in theaters on November 4, has given it a different treatment that sets a precedent within the platform. ‘Bardo’ is an homage to Spanish culture, to the literature of Octavio Paz, Borges, Julio Cortazar, Juan Rulfo and, of course, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A movie that tells us how rich our cultural heritage is in the Spanish language and here Iñarritu explains to us why he had the necessity to explain our narratives to the world in a very symbolic way.
Q:Bardo is more than just a film. It's a state of mind. It means being in between. It's a state between life and birth. So, can you talk a little bit about how you define Bardo?
A: Well, I think it's exactly that. I think it's that space between when something dies or ends, and something is about to become. And it's not there yet. And there's uncertainty. And so, it's that space in between one thing or the other. And for me, it was a way to say that space that I felt that I reflect on the fact that, you know, when you emigrate, when you leave your country, there's something that dies a little bit. So, there's a dual existence of the guy that stays there and the guy that leaves there. And there's this in between that you don't belong to one place or the other. So, for me, it was exactly the way to say it better, that ungraspable feeling as an immigrant.
Q: This film speaks so powerfully and so poetically, is very powerful about identity. So, how do you tell a personal story while still making it universal?
A: Well, I think that for me, it was an exercise of, you know, closing my eyes. And the material, the fabric of this film was made of these walking the consciousness of myself in that sense. Like I want to clean my closet, let's put it that way. I'm going to turn 60 years old. I think there's a moment that you say, "Okay, there's a lot of baggage here. There's a lot of things." I detect some elements, emotionally. I do not remember my childhood, unfortunately. I have a block. I have three pictures of me when I was a kid. That's it. And for some reason, I don't have access to it. I would have loved to find or make a foundation of who I am. Access to my childhood. But I don't. And probably this only last 20, 25 years could possibly enlighten me or help me to know how I became what I became. So, that was my access to playing emotion to revise that, putting together those things. So, I went into that very deeply. It was an introspection and the material and the fabric of this film is made of that. It's emotions, feelings, fears, regrets, things that I have in mind and things that I have experienced. And once I got that, it took me four years to put things on the table. Things that were intimate and personal, things that were from my personal memory and from the collective memory of my country, events that has changed us as Mexicans. Recent ones from the past, things that could happen in the future, such as Amazon buying Baja, California. All these things that are happening in our fears, you know, were things in the past. I was not interested in a biography because my biography, it would be the most boring biography ever. Because I don't believe in biographies. I think they are lies. They are hypocrisies because you cannot claim that event happened that way. It's the way I remember a night as a character said, it's an emotional conviction. And I wanted to betray reality, trying to find a higher truth. Those are universal themes that any human being could possibly connect. So, that was the way I process
Q: Your film has the key events and references key events in Mexico's history but you do it through the pages of Spanish literature. In a way it is very surrealist. You are breaking form but also teaching about Spanish Literature
A: Yes. Latin-Americans are very used to this fragmented time and this space created by magic realism with my favorite authors as Octavio Paz, Cortazar, Borges, of course Juan Rulfo, all great authors, and obviously Garcia Marquez. But what I'm saying, we are used to these narratives that, in a way, play with the metaphysical existence like two realities coexisting. So, for me, in the last century, the second half of the last century, that was the boom. The Spanish literature boom that was where we were fed. Even our painters, all the muralists. You know, they have these massive mosaics of political things, religious things, social things. So, we are very much part of that movement and we need to generate more culture. For me, this movie is a way of exist. A way to bring to life our own literature. While he is revising the end of his life, for me was an exercise to talk about this. And the way, the reason I did it, it was because I think the conquest of Mexico, it's almost like it's an open wound that hasn't been closed. It is still there, that we are a Mestizo country, a mixed-race country with a lot of complexity that we have not yet really assimilate that wound, and it plays a huge part in ourselves. The Mexican-American War, where we lost, or, you know, they bought, Texas. So, we lost half of our country. It was a very traumatic thing that we have not solved as a nation, still, that relation with United States. Still, always, we are completely together in history, but the history has been very friction. And the disappearance of 130,000 people in the last 50 years, can you believe that? And we don't have any answers. It's impunity. And we have normalized it. We keep walking in the streets while 120,000 people have disappeared in a democracy. That's a record. And we are just talking. And obviously, the powers and the militaries and the policeman and the priest, the powers, we all are just looking. And for me, those collective memories about the past or the present were important, because that is part of who we are. And I think it’s that all the narratives that we have been told, again, they are accommodating a political agenda, ideological agenda. As kids, we are told about these things to give us, like, identity belonging, collective power. But if you go into that, most of those are changing with time, depending who is telling the story and accommodating. So, you can really deconstruct that. So, for me, the game was, all these narratives, even our own lives, our narratives, we invented. We create these narratives to, in a way, have something to believe. But the film plays with the idea of questioning everything.
Q: How do you feel about filming in Spanish again, coming back to your own language?
A: I think Spanish is very important right now, especially in the United States. As an immigrant coming back to Mexico it was like going to a country that I left and doesn't exist anymore. The streets don’t exist anymore. My memories are elusive and the way I remember is not anymore. [laugh] I never know if that was the way it was, but it is the way I remember. So, it's always interesting going back because I go often because all my family live there. But to work there and to find again and integrate yourself to the way we work in Mexico. To work in Spanish. After working all around the world and for the people in Mexico to adapt and integrate to the way I work now. It took a process like, to find like, a new old friend. Always there's expectations and excitement and love and affection. But at the same time, there is like, you know, the expectations always can bring some problems and paradoxes and contradictions. And so, it was very beautiful, challenging. I was living a meta experience.
Q: Are you keeping the Spanish language in your house now that you live in America?
A: Yes, a very difficult question, right? That’s why I’ve made a movie. [laugh] My kids are now more American, but I am feeling more Mexican than before. It’s something that is ungraspable. I think people that have not moved from their countries, don’t understand how very difficult it is for us to explain what it feels like. It feels like you are whining. Like, poor you. But, no, there’s something metaphysical that is hard [laugh]. And it doesn’t matter if you’re successful or not, if you have money, the adventure has been good or bad. We all share that kind of weird, as you were saying, where you are. Who I am. Because I think what I have learned, I think this is my personal thing that I have been, now, I’m not kind of one thing to belong to any place anymore. When I go to Mexico and somebody criticizes the United States, I defend the United States, and I become very American. When I come here, and they criticize Mexico, you know what I mean? then there’s a hate/love relation. It’s weird. It’s all over the place. It’s bi-polar. Let’s put it that way. But what I feel I have arrived at is that it’s been liberating for me. I’m not anymore desperate to belong to a geographic or an ideological nation, that narrative that I’m Mexican geographically because, in a way, I know I have surrendered to the fact that I cannot go back. Because I mean, there’s no way back even if you want. And I will never be an American because I’m not an American for many other reasons. It’s not that I have been welcome in this country, but there’s something culturally, what we know. So that's bad of a thing, I have surrendered. And I have allowed myself to live in this space of becoming. You know? That I’m not attached to anything. I’m just allowing myself to see I’m from nowhere in a good way, and that allows me to be in permanent transformation and become a better human being. And just to be from there. And my nation is my family.
Q: There’s a mediation on success, what does success as a filmmaker mean to you?
A: You know, I think that my father had this strange relation with success. He used to say: “With success, take a sip, take it three times and spit it because, if not, it will poison you.” I have I take it very seriously in a way that I think when the perception of success of people, and success for me, you don’t have to be an Oscar winner. I think we all, in a way, are very successful people. You are a successful journalist, you have a job, a dentist or any career, you know, whatever, we have been told since we were kids that success is a place that will change the whole thing and will solve your problems. And what I have found, and I think when you are older, you find that success, in a way, is, like, a mirage.
You run, run, run, say, “There’s water there.” And then you arrive, and there’s no water. So, I mean, it’s like smoke. So, no matter how successful you are, I think success is an interior peace of mind. I mean, it’s that peace when you don’t wish for success anymore. I think that’s successful. So that’s the reflection that I have personally arrived at: it has been a lie to be successful. And if you are miserable, no matter how successful or how many Oscar you have or whatever recognitions in your journalist world, you will still be the same. And we don’t teach that to kids. And that’s kind of the relation with success that I wanted to question. What is success? And I think it’s important, you know? And people will say, “Oh, this guy’s complaining.” No, it’s not complaining. It's just a reality, you know, because an Oscar does not give you happiness. What makes me happy are things more important and deeper than an Oscar.
By María Estévez