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The sound of Iñárritu's 'Bardo'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, award-winning Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has a new film out.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARDO: FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: "Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths" explores the life of a Mexican journalist living in Los Angeles who travels home and finds himself steeped in memories from his past. Shot mainly in Mexico City, the film takes viewers on a sometimes surreal tour that mines both the filmmaker's and Mexico's past. NPR's Mandalit del Barco says the director teamed up with a longtime friend to create a unique soundscape for this drama.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Bardo, as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, explains, is a kind of limbo.

ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU: Before I'm going to the afterlife, this is Bardo. This is where a soul is in-between.

DEL BARCO: And Bardo is where we find the film's main character, Silverio Gama, as he questions his identity, his successes, even the history of his native country.

INARRITU: Everything is from the radical point of view of a man seeing his life in 3 minutes, just getting mesh and blended with time and space fragmented in the way he remember it.

DEL BARCO: He calls his film a lucid dream illustrated with sound. The film opens with Silverio's point of view as a shadow over the desert floor. You hear his breath as he walks, runs, then leaps and flies overhead. There are many surreal moments in "Bardo." In Mexico City, Silverio climbs a mountain of dead bodies to meet up with Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez. In LA, he chases a pet axolotl on a metro train filling up with water. He talks with his mouth closed, but his wife can hear his thoughts.

INARRITU: Sensations that only in a dream can happen.

DEL BARCO: Inarritu co-wrote much of the soundtrack and also recorded some of the sounds, like cross-border immigrants in the desert. Other scenes are underscored with comedic music, such as an absurdist recreation of the historic battle at Chapultepec between U.S. and Mexican soldiers. "Bardo" is the first film Inarritu shot in Mexico since his 2000 film "Amores Perros," where he first teamed with his longtime friend and sound designer, Martin Hernandez. In one scene, Silverio walks through the cacophonous streets of Mexico City.

MARTIN HERNANDEZ: It's a soup of sound.

DEL BARCO: Hernandez recorded many of those real-life sounds.

HERNANDEZ: The scene is moving through the space. You feel the nuances of the shifting of the sounds.

DEL BARCO: Hernandez says he had to keep in mind he was creating a very peculiar sonic panorama.

HERNANDEZ: Alejandro was constantly reminding us that it was a version of reality, but it wasn't exactly real. There was something off all the time.

DEL BARCO: In that street scene, people begin falling down lifeless all around Silverio. Hernandez has worked on all of Inarritu's films, including two Oscar winners, "Birdman" and "The Revenant." He says they became friends when they were 19 or 20, working as deejays at a Mexico City radio station.

HERNANDEZ: I was in the mornings. He was in the midday. We mixed Peter Gabriel and jazz, Miles Davis to Madonna.

DEL BARCO: It's subtle, but a snippet from their radio show plays on a car passing through traffic in one scene of "Bardo." Inarritu says Hernandez is a crucial part of his storytelling, which in "Bardo," in many ways parallels his own life and his aesthetics.

INARRITU: This sound, in a way, has a quality that hits you in the body. And I like the immediacy of audio. That's why it's called audio-visual medium, you know. Audio is first. Audio, I think, is 75% of the film experience, you know.

DEL BARCO: "Bardo," which will soon be on Netflix, is Mexico's official entry to the Oscars. And Inarritu will be honored as the Cinema Audio Society's Filmmaker of the Year. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.