Che - Part 1, Che - Part 2

Che – unimaginative, undramatic and far too respectful.

He’s the most chic of revolutionaries and popularized a style of beard, which he sported with long hair and a beret. We get over four hours of the iconic look in these long studies of two military campaigns. The first dramatizes the successful overthrow of the Battista regime in Cuba in 1958; the second looks at the disastrous Bolivian campaign which led to his execution in 1967.

Spending so much time with him, we would hope to learn a lot about him, about his achievements and failings, about his politics. Do we? Well, he seems to have been quite tall – at least actor Benicio Del Toro is – and he comes over as a good chap, and very committed and principled. Part 2 is refreshingly frank about some of his failings.

Director Soderbergh, who’s ranged far and wide in his career, indulges in his freedom from normal Hollywood confines. He makes a film in Spanish, that’s stubbornly, uncommercially long and, in some respects, painstakingly detailed. But though long on detail, it’s short on insight.

Soderbergh’s Che is not the famously sensual and smelly man (even out of the jungle). We get too little of Che as a person or relating in any meaningful way with other people. Yet, at the same time, there’s hardly a scene where Che is not central. Even Fidel is only an intermittent visitant, briefly dispensing orders and wisdom, then disappearing with a puff of his Havana cigar. So the film rarely opens out, and mostly fails to show the significance of the struggle, even to his comrades.

Sadly, there’s a lack of personality, humour, reflectiveness, though Part 2 is better. It’s very American in looking good, having a lot of the bang-bang stuff, and focusing on an individual. But all told, it’s unimaginative, undramatic – and far too respectful.

New Internationalist issue 419 magazine cover This article is from the January/February 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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