Film Review: Che Part 1 & Che Part 2

Let’s Start a Revolution- Che in Two Parts

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara is best known to people around the world as the ‘face’ of revolution. His iconic image has been transformed into a representation of rebellion, student culture and even loosely to signify change. More than anything else, the Latin-American, anti-imperialist, revolutionary is a brand appropriated largely for merchandising. Actor Benicio Del Toro and Producer Laura Bickford began discussing making a film on Guevara with Director Steven Soderbergh during their collaboration on Traffic (2000). Their purpose – to tell the story of a man who in recent years has become little more than pop art iconography. Does Steven Soderbergh’s new biopic, which is made up of two films or one depending on cinema releases or DVD possibilities, break the mould on reimagining Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara?

Titled Che: The Argentine and Che: The Guerrilla, or Che Part 1 and Che Part 2, depending on which posters you see, the source material for the films is Guevara’s own writings. The first film focuses on Guevara’s role in overthrowing Batista in Cuba 1956-9, the second shows Guevara’s demise during his unsuccessful campaign in Bolivia 1967. Stylistically both films have a 1970s production quality. The colours are cool, muted greens and greys. Digitally shot there is a documentary aesthetic to the films- this feels very intentional as if to suggest impartiality. It is important to recognise the differing dynamics of the two films despite similar settings. The first film is about success, ‘a how to’ wage guerrilla warfare, the second film is a tragedy, most definitely ‘how not to’. It is this subject of failure that makes Che Part 2 a more rewarding film experience. Guevara’s inability to gain the trust of the Bolivian people and his refusal to recognise his failings as they collapse in on him, presents a new perspective on the Guevara persona. Here was a man who could not adapt past the Cuba model, a model which had made him into a great figure in Latin America.

In terms of cast, the film is wholly Benicio Del Toro’s; little time is given to characterising any of the other players. Del Toro is a very good actor and absolutely compelling as ‘Che’ Guevara; however the decision to focus so heavily on Guevara’s asthma was odd, bordering on absurd. Almost a character in the film, his asthma is certainly more explored and considered than the roles of Fidel Castro (Demián Bichir) and Guevara’s second wife, Aleida (Catalina Sandino Moreno). Showing that he had asthma is a simple way of presenting Guevara as more than myth, as human with frailties; however the sheer amount of time devoted to Guevara’s breathing was like the director was hitting you over the head yelling ‘HE’S A REAL HUMAN BEING’.

There have been many questions raised about the choices Soderbergh made as to what parts of Guevara’s life to show. Exiled Cubans are angry that Guevara’s role in the execution of political prisoners, in the years following the revolution, is glossed over. To be fair this topic is brought into the first film, using Guevara’s address to the UN (1964), to show his willingness to use capital punishment to eliminate perceived threat to the revolution. The glaring omission, in terms of Guevara as the soldier, is his time in Congo. Soderbergh has defended this as a matter of money, not choice. The films budget was approx. $USD58 million. Whilst this seems like a large amount of money, looking at the films this money has been stretched to its full effect, with spectacular and rugged landscapes beautifully filling the screen. It does however leave the films in the gapping chasm between art house and commercial.

“I was interested in Che as a warrior. Che is a guy who has an ideology, who picked up a gun and this was the result” Soderbergh 12/12/08

Soderbergh brilliantly defending his vision for the film:

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The end product, the odyssey that is 4 ½ hrs of Che, has evolved from this idea of connecting ideology with action/violence that obviously intrigues all the key instigators of the project. The films prove to be engaging, with a nice mixture of action and ideological consideration. But, unfortunately, the audience is given nothing of the man. We don’t get to know his family, friends and comrades; nothing beyond the beret. The screen time is taken up mostly with a romanticised vision of Guevara the revolutionary, the educator, the inspiration – this is the brand ‘Che’, just executed with a little more finesse than we are used to seeing.

 

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Demián Bichir, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Julia Ormond, Joaquim de Almeida

Che Currently has no release dates for Australia

About Beth Wilson

A Brit based in Sydney, Beth is constantly fighting for an organised queuing system and the right to call chips, crisps. She can often be found working at film festivals around NSW, and has become accustomed to surviving on very little sleep. You can follow her on twitter at @bflwilson