Alejandro G. Iñárritu is on the final day of his whirlwind festival experience, wrapping up a few interviews at Telluride before escaping for a much needed family vacation. He started out this journey with a stop at the Venice Film Festival, where his latest work, Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths), premiered, before arriving in Colorado. Here, he’s attended more screenings of the film, done a Q&A with Barry Jenkins and attended a soiree Saturday night for the film that morphed into a dance party with much of his cast.

“Opening a film is a combination of excitement and vertigo at the same time,” he tells Vanity Fair on Sunday morning. “Always, you feel that vulnerability.”

But for Iñárritu, Bardo is something new. Like with The Revenant or Birdman, the film is technically astounding, full of big swings and bold moments. But unlike his previous work, Bardo is much more personal. Mining from his own memories and dreams, Iñárritu explores a myriad of issues he’s been grappling with in his own life, from identity as an immigrant to grief and mortality.

The story centers on a Mexican journalist-turned-documentarian (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who, after some success, moved his family to the U.S. But he’s grappling with his own identity as he discovers neither place makes him feel like he belongs.

Likewise, Iñárritu left Mexico and moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 37 years old. Now almost 60, the filmmaker is seeing how his own two children are shaping their identities, growing up in a country that’s not their homeland. There are plenty of other points of inspiration taken from Iñárritu’s own life and loss, but he uses them mostly as a jumping off point for a film that’s full of absurdist and surreal moments. We dove into how this film came about, what he thinks about the initial reviews and when — or if — he’ll make another movie.

You’ve mentioned you started working on Bardo five years ago. But it’s full of so many big ideas. What was the first spark of an idea for this?

My kids grow and obviously things got more complicated because it’s like a branch in a tree that when it starts growing, the branch needs the roots, but the roots are far away. So I think that feeling of displacement started filling my soul, and it was an attempt to recoup my memories, which is impossible to grasp them because they are just memories. So in a way, recoup them by reinterpretating them. It’s not about me; I think I just use some of my experience and feelings to do something very, very particular and very honest. Even fiction demands you to be very honest.

Exploring that issue of identity when you are no longer living in your own country, but also don’t feel completely welcomed in your new one, is something millions of people who’ve 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 one before and the one that you have, and everything becomes very elusive, like a dream. And that’s why I wanted to give the quality to the film that it’s almost like a dream, you know?

You mention that this is fiction, but there are plenty of parallels, including the family unit being the same as your own. Did you have conversations with your wife and children about how much of their own lives would appear in this movie?

They knew. I always keep them aware that this was absolutely a fiction thing, but at the same time, as an artist, I think you need to use your sources of understanding. There were several things that we talked about as a family, and I was always very, very open and very respectful of their point of view. But no matter what, obviously it takes courage because it’s vulnerable. And the misunderstanding of people to feel that this is self-indulgent — No. It’s not about that. It’s really to expose and express emotional things that have to do with 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 the way you take in reviews and feedback on it?

To be honest, I haven’t read one single review in completion. Obviously, the team has been giving me some notes, and I know that is has been misunderstood on many levels. I respect anybody’s opinion. I think everybody has a heart and everybody has a mind and they can make their own conclusions. As I understand it, one of the things that people said is that it is self-indulgent or narcissistic. I think I have the right as a writer and a filmmaker to have access to my emotional baggage. I think that’s the best source that I can bring to a film, and especially to this film.

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