Experimental Reviews

Bardo (2018) – 1 star

Director: Rolf Gunnar Hjalmarsson

Writer: Meriyin

Cast: Uncredited

Running time: 13mins

Over the last year of submissions to Indy Film Library, we have seen that experimental films can be some of the best that independent cinema has to offer. They can contain the most challenging, insightful and thought-provoking messages, while delivering them in the most refreshing, ground-breaking and innovative ways imaginable. Unfortunately though, there is another side to this medium.

While non-traditional structures of art can be used to encourage critical thought and engage audiences well beyond their stay in the auditorium, they can also rather lazily be used to obscure a criminal lack of invention or commitment. For every Picasso there is a Damien Hirst, for every or Banksy there is a Tracy Emin – tiresome hacks bent on proving that they are the smartest person in the room; either by making something so utterly banal that the rest of us plebs cannot infer any meaning from it, or by tricking passing rubes into stroking their chins at ‘art’ which is in actuality nothing more than an unmade bed, or a formaldehyde-drenched cow’s carcass.

Far be it from me to suggest that Rolf Gunnar Hjalmarsson is taking the Mick, but his experimental short Bardo certainly seems to be in the latter category (Hjalmarsson is credited as the film’s Producer, but the absence of a Director’s credit suggests the two are one and the same, so he will take the brunt of the criticism here). It is difficult to imagine how such a terminally lazy film could have come into existence without being at least partially tongue-in-cheek.

Illustrating this, aside from the constant clamour of stock audio crowd ambience and car-alarms, the score consists solely of Bach’s St Matthew Passion Part One: No. 1 (the orchestra and particular session were not credited – which, assuming Hjalmarsson did not somehow record this himself, they really need to be). Somehow though, the film’s lifeless visuals and apparent theme manage to exhbit even less enginuity.

The first half of the film consists largely of a woman sleeping so motionlessly that she might be mistaken for one of the flurry of out-of-context stock-photos which suddenly appear as a segue to a new section of the film. Elsewhere, a pair of gloved hands rubber-stamps some bureaucratic forms, while waggling disapproving fingers at those waiting for their papers to be approved. Suddenly, the aforementioned montage of un-credited images (including an easily identified image of a crowded Nou Camp) whisks us away to a woman in cardboard angel-wings entering the apartment of an elderly gentleman.

The transition effects between these scenes will be familiar to users of Movie Maker on Windows 7 – something which only makes the process more grating. The final hideous ripple effect sees us returned to the sleeping woman, with the epicentre of this garish effect centring on her forehead – suggesting the most loathed of endings to any film; that all the bizarre, outlandish, and yet inexorably tedious musings which came before were conjured out of her dreaming unconscious.

Like many alleged ‘experimental’ films then, getting through Bardo feels like a test. Give up on it, or trash it, and you are one of the imbeciles who simply didn’t ‘get it’ – but there is really nothing to get here. Contrasting the film with North of Blue or Saturation makes this abundantly apparent; those are two films where you might have to work hard to draw out what the filmmaker hoped to say – but they do not feel like hard work, because the visuals are stunning, the soundtracks mesmerising, the use of colour or make-up demonstrative of a cohesive feeling, theme or an idea running through the entire production. In this case, though, spend too long sitting on Bardo trying to extract meaning and it will give you haemorrhoids.

Overall grade: 1 star

There are many things which are contemptible about Rolf Gunnar Hjalmarsson’s posturing experimental short – but the fact he does not properly credit his cast is arguably an act of kindness. In another scenario, the fact that Hjalmarsson seems to have broadly ignored his cast’s efforts would come off as a slight, but here it means they are mercifully able to deny having had any part in this pretentious slog. If he intends to return to the experimental genre, he had better approach it with a great deal more respect and guile than Bardo exhibits.

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