“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 2008 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Steven Soderbergh / Actors: Unax Ulgalde, Santiago Cabrera, Demian Bichir, Rodrigo Santoro, Jordi Molla ... / DVD released 2009-06-29 at Optimum Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: PAL „
Steven Soderbergh proves his mettle as a director when he attempted a hugely ambitious four-hour epic look at the life and death of Che Guevara, and while it isn't always as compelling as it should be, this is an admirable effort and one that works more than it doesn't, largely because of Benicio Del Toro's immaculate performance. However, it also skates over a lot of the important events in his life and has a very laboured pace that keeps it from ever being truly compelling.
Part 1 takes place in New York City, with Guevara being interviewed by the press about his values as a revolutionary, while darting back often and showing us the events in his home Cuba that have informed his views. The format works well but the pace is very sluggish, meaning you have to wait and wait to see where the dots connect. The first part ends as the revolution begins to gain a foothold, ending with a violent and quite exciting shootout.
Part 2 takes place in Bolivia, with Guevara attempting to start another revolution, but he has to contend with the imposing CIA threat as well as his own declining health, resulting in an intense climax even though we all know how it has to end.
Soderbergh deserves a lot of credit for his direction - it is shot in a verite, handheld style that totally befits the material, and he is clever enough not to attempt an English-spoken version, sticking to the original Spanish. Yes, the film is paced poorly, meaning those with a more casual interest in Guevara might feel a bit lost, and frankly the film could have given more of a personal insight into THE MAN rather than THE ICON, but Del Toro's performance keeps this above board.
I dragged myself out of bed on New Year's Day 2009 to see both parts of this film at the cinema. I enjoyed the experience but the work is not without its faults.
Part 1 concerns Che's role in toppling Batista from power in the Cuban Revolution. However the initial ambush on them after disembarkation from the landing craft was missed out. Given the devastating initial shock that the revolutionaries had to recover from, I was surprised by this omission. However, the film eventually got down to showing us what life was like in the guerilla camps, and how Che became more trusted by Castro's forces. Che comes across as a confident and self-assured young man, with a swagger admirably carried off by Benicio Del Toro.
Part 2 jumps ahead to the disastrous Bolivian campaiagn. More could have been made of Che's failure in the Congo, and why he would swap a cushy bank manager's job in Havana for a campfire in the sierrras of who knows where. Perhaps we're meant to deduce his reasoning from his previous enthusiasm for the life of the guerilla displayed in Part 1. Certainly, Che himself saw the life of a communist guerilla as an almost spiritual development, strengthening a young man's body and soul in the quest for ultimate victory, but it's not made clear in the film. In any case, we're now presented with Che as the global revolutionary, this time in a Spanish-speaking country. This part does succeed in capturing how quickly things went wrong for the revolutionaries, how they had real trouble drumming up support, and how they quickly became isolated and desperate. Am I allowed to spoil the ending in what's essentially historical fim-making?
As my username suggests, I'm a fan of Che Guevara, and while these films capture the essence of Che's writings, they're no substitute for picking up his readable written works and seeing what he had to say for himself. Indeed, not doing so may actually hinder your enjoyment of the films, because Soderburgh tries to pack in a hell of a lot of detail into a short space of time, which could make some parts a little hard to follow. Nevertheless, this is a noble effort at fleshing out the man from behind the icon, and what motivated him to extraordinary acts of courage and selflessness. Let's hope someone can fund that final piece of the jigsaw, the Congo Expedition, into the middle of it sometime soon.
Che Guevara has been a great hero of mine since I was a teenager. I have always loved his iconic face and believed he was a passionate man who cared about his country and his people. So when this film was released at the cinema the other week I was very excited even though I had already seen Che Part 1. Like a child, I was first in the queue to buy my 25 zloty cinema ticket and as I knew this was going to be a long haul bought a huge bucket of popcorn and off I went to find my seat ready for the epic that lay ahead.
For most of us Che has always been a conceptual being rather than an actual person. His brooding persona has been one of the most romantic posters for any teenager wanting to be a revolutionary and his shoulder length hair and black beret have become a worldwide symbol for the working class fighting against totalitarianism and dictatorship. His myth is far greater and more important than his actual life story, because his life story as told by Soderbergh in his long, two part film is disappointing and rather boring. If Soderbergh's plan in making this film was to remove the myth from the man and to strip away the romanticism of revolution, he has succeeded but sadly, the outcome is a film that is not very forceful.
For a film over 4 hours long and such epic proportions, Che is very definite and restrictive in its narrative domain.
Part 1 (The Argentine)
Here the film follows the revolutionary in Cuba as he joins forces with a young Castro to support an agrarian revolution. He eventually wins the hearts and souls of ordinary working Cubans who are unhappy with their government. Interspersed between the narrative are black and white flashbacks of Che in Manhattan in 1964 speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, which adds a bit of a spark to the narrative. By the end of the first part of the film, Che and his rebels have successfully brought about the downfall of Batista's current regime in Cuba, though we never see the march into Havanna which is disappointing.
Part 2 (The Guerilla)
Just as we are finally rewarded for painstakingly observing the predictable and boring everydayness of revolution for two hours that is made up of Part 1 of the film, the second part (The Guerilla) tries to copy his Cuban revolutionary achievements in another Latin American country. Sadly, the revolutionary passion and enthusiasm amongst the working class and oppressed people in Bolivia is not as determined as Che had hoped for and the revolution fades out before it begins.
That about sums the film up.
Now what do I think to it - it is jam packed with meddlesome characters, meetings, gun-fire skirmishes, dark mountains, jungle walks, exploding bombs, fat cigars, tending to wounds, speaking unintelligibly in Spanish (which is really infuriating), disagreements, plotting and scheming. In tiny doses all these things can be interesting but for four hours it is absolutely tiresome.
Sometimes it is a good thing for a film to focus the viewer's attention on the boring realities of life but this film goes over the top.
I thought in Che I would get to know the real man and get to know him well. No such luck. The director's clear commitment to raw earthy realism combined with well-meant ideological faithfulness to Che's equalatarian, leftist principles leaves no space for character development in the old fashioned sense. He is still just a moniker that has indistinct associations with revolution and armed resistance to any established government.
I have always admired Benicio del Toro as an actor and he does a good job with this poor material. He certainly looks the part and his mannerisms are spot on. Physically, he is believable as Che and he is very good but it was so disappointing and at times quite draining to sit through such a long performance that is so reduced by the filmmakers' gratifying, self-imposed and unusual narrative. On a positive note, the look of the film is visually stunning. Soderbergh takes the reins as the cinematographer and he reproduces the natural beauty, of such locations as Puerto Rico and Spain where parts of the film were shot. With a conscious grace and an extraordinary eye for detail he captures the rough, jagged terrains and the verdant landscapes. There are hardly any interior shots and very few artificial lights, only a natural exploration of nature.
Additionally, he uses different camera techniques throughout both parts of the film giving a slightly different look and feel to the two halves. He is scrupulously attentive to style and makes choices based on the material and job at hand. His films have a wildly, uncoordinated look but always stick to the content. Soderbergh knows his craft and I have to say for all its flaws Che is a well made film. But I also have to say that a well made film doesn't always make a great film to watch.
In the case of Che, I think it is too artsy (yes, even for me). If you take a peek at Soderbergh's CV he has a list of films that are experimental. Some have worked like Schizopolis and others have failed, like Solaris and although I do admire his work on Che, I certainly don't love it. It is too detached and has a self-consciousness that is foreign to its audience. It is a great shame because Che is a strong and fascinating figure, if only because of his permanent power and importance as an icon. Even if you don't agree with his politics, his myth certainly deserves a better portrayal than this.
There are moments in the film where we see snippets of interesting ideas, little conversations and one-liners that trigger some possible realisations and discoveries but these remarks are never explored, and it's always on to the next cigar puffing meeting or another firearm wielding battle.
As part two concludes, Che is experiencing pain from asthma, his rebels are starving, the fight for his cause is diminishing. At this point in the film I should have been feeling sad and feeling sympathy for him but I wasn't sad and I found it difficult to find sympathy for him. The film gave me no reason to support his ideals because it only slightly outlines them. It's a massive tribute to the birth and death of martyrdom and idealism and by the end of the film when I should have been inspired I felt only frustration and exhaustion and realised I had just wasted a sixth of a day.
Che is a lot of things but to the regrettable detriment of what it tries to honour - it is anything but brief and precise. A great shame - one film I have been waiting to see and thought I would love it passionately but was so disappointed.