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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Obsession in "Che"

By Luke

For better or worse, Che isn't interested in either glorifying or demonizing Che Guevara (which some might classify as giving him a pass). It makes no effort to get inside Che's thoughts or motivations. For the most part, he doesn't even seem human. Even though we see his first several interactions with his future wife, there is no hint of romance or even the consideration that Che sees her as anything other than a "comrade." Che is an object of singular focus and, coincidentally, so is Che.

Benecio Del Toro at a premiere of Che: Part 1 (aka The Argentine; Che: El Argentino)
There isn't much narrative arc to Che, some critics have called it "boring" or "monotonous." There isn't much variation either, just a lot of training sequences and ambushes in the jungle (with one B&W sequence of Che in New York City mercifully showing up from time to time in Part One). There are emotions, but only a few: frightened locals, angry government regimes, and, mostly, the soldiers who are either heroic or cowards. At one point while being interviewed in New York, Che tells the interviewer that the most important quality for a revolutionary to have is "love," and the word hits you hard because you realize that's exactly what this movie has been missing.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Che's personal trait that fascinates director Steven Soderbergh (below) is the same trait which guides the movie: unwavering, detail-oriented obsession, and if you wanted something else...well, too bad. Soderbergh (who serves as his own cinematographer) has shot a beautiful movie which revels in the monotonous, slowly ticking off the days even when new developments are few and far between. All of this gives Benecio del Toro plenty of time to scowl, pace, bark orders, and train, always train, in preparation for revolution. Part One focuses on the Cuban revolution, and more than two hours later, just as the first signs of victory appear, it ends. Part Two doesn't resume until eight years later when Che has arrived in Bolivia, and then that part concentrates on the (very similar) attempt to bring about revolution there. Like Che himself, the movie lives for the revolution, and isn't interested in the extraneous...or the consequences (the splendors or ills of victory). This movie is about the journey, a journey in which one has to, in Che's words, "live like you've already died." The film's MO in one sentence might be, "Rome wasn't built in a day."

Che
is not for all tastes, and it makes little effort to convert the skeptics. If you criticize movies for "being too slow" or "not being about anything," this is not for you. But, if you are going to see this movie, see it in the theaters. See both parts at once (and see it during the roadshow, so you only have to pay one admission). This movie demands nothing less than your full attention, and the spell will be broken on DVD.
Personally, I found the experience worth it, it's a great showcase for Soderbergh and del Toro's respective talents and the roadshow environment (the two parts played together, with an intermission in between) is rare and exciting. But it's likely to elicit different reactions from every audience member, depending on who you are, you'll consider that a weakness or a strength.

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