Your Weekly Roundup of Movies: Life Is the Stuff of Dreams in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Bardo”

Plus, reviews of “Aftersun,” “The Menu” and “The Wonder.”


**** Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) clambers atop a mountain of corpses and faces Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador who decimated the Aztec empire. Then, someone calls, “Cut!” Turns out we’re on a set where Silverio, a filmmaker and journalist, is creating a work of docufiction. Is he a visionary artfully confronting evil? Or a pretentious egomaniac using genocide as a vessel for his genius? You might wonder the same thing about Bardo’s director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose devotion to extreme filmmaking (from the ultra-long takes in Birdman to the snow-and-blood brutality of The Revenant) has earned him a reputation as a brilliant showboat. Still, haters and adherents alike should agree that Bardo puts on an intoxicating show. With its wild flourishes of fantasy, tragedy, absurdity and sex, it is, blessedly, a movie that can barely be contained by the big screen. Silverio may wonder whether fame has leached the authenticity out of his activism, but Iñárritu never gets his feet stuck in existential mud. Like Cacho in the film’s ecstatic opening shot in the desert, he leaps and soars, carrying us through both the mortal world and the afterlife. Death always looms, but Bardo has air in its lungs and blood pumping through its heart, especially in the tender moments Silverio shares with his family. Just watch as he chats with his daughter Camila (Ximena Lamadrid) in a swimming pool whose light blue waters seem to extend to eternity. It’s a scene at once ordinary and wondrous, conveying the film’s defining belief: Dreams are the stuff of life and life is the stuff of dreams. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Hollywood.


**** There’s no such thing as a cool dad, confesses Aftersun through oblique heartbreak—even if that dad shoots doubles pool with his daughter and is played by Paul Mescal (the budding heartthrob of Normal People and Phoebe Bridgers-dating fame). As another character in the film does, you might mistake Calum (Mescal) and 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) as age-distant siblings when you first see them on their budget-resort vacation in Turkey. She’s calm and self-possessed for her age; he’s chaperoning very loosely for his. First-time director Charlotte Wells memorializes the singular, unreal and entirely fleeting feeling of a vacation bond shared with one’s irregular guardian (Calum lives separately from Sophie and her mother), and Aftersun’s constant use of camcorder footage as a looking glass for the characters is no innocent nostalgia document. Calum keeps checking the tape as if evaluating whether they’re having a good time, and Gregory Oke’s elliptical cinematography pays off when we understand that what we’re witnessing is not so much a golden or stolen father-daughter moment. It’s that crossroads where an immature parent and a mature child meet in the middle all too briefly. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.


**** A horror comedy with a nuanced social commentary emerges as often as a snowball freezes in hell, but when Satan sees Mark Mylod’s The Menu, he’ll have to don a fur coat. The film stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot, who’s not the type to frequent an extravagant and highly exclusive restaurant that serves tiny-portioned abstract concepts as courses. Nonetheless, she happily obliges her date, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), and his nonstop musings about the culinary arts. As the couple joins the other diners on a small yacht heading toward a restaurant on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, the chaotic plotlines woven throughout the story ignite. In short, The Menu skillfully subjects White Lotus-type characters to a Willy Wonka-style comeuppance. Ralph Fiennes, as Chef Slowik, is the most spellbinding psychopath since Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter; composer Colin Stetson’s eerily dissonant instrumentals (reminiscent of his Hereditary score) punctuate each cleverly constructed scare; and writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy unleash a gripping argument about the consumption of art in the age of content. Mix these ingredients together and they equal a movie that will devour your attention from start to finish. R. ALEX BARR. Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lake Theater, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Tigard.


*** At last, a movie for which Florence Pugh will do a press tour. In The Wonder, her follow-up to Don’t Worry Darling, Pugh tamps down her charisma and returns to Lady Macbeth (2016) mode—earthy and restrained, with her deep timbre compelling the audience to lean toward an ordinary character. That character is English nurse Lib Wright, who’s called to an Irish village in 1862 to scrutinize a potential miracle: Anna, an 11-year-old girl who’s allegedly fasted for four months, surviving only on invisible “manna from heaven.” And scrutinize her Wright does, with Hippocratic seriousness, while surrounded by gawkers and pundits (including Toby Jones’ ineffectual doctor, Ciarán Hinds’ self-serving priest, and Tom Burke’s prodding journalist). While others debate miracles and conspiracies, Wright is after empirical evidence as to whether Anna is a saint-in-the-making or a fraud, leaning into The Wonder novelist and co-screenwriter Emma Donoghue’s pet themes of child peril and liberation (she also wrote Room). Director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria Bell, A Fantastic Woman) reflects thoughtfully on how practicality might exist between cynicism and zealotry, while overinflating a metafocus on the tired “power of story” trope via nonsensical voice-over. Obviously, though, this fable carries its own import. Whether we take myths literally or not, they form a language we must all speak. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Netflix.

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