Che: Part One
- Steven Soderbergh
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Because we should at least know who the hell he was, I’m happy that his popularity is rising lately in the movies, and you couldn’t ask for much more than the recent biopic of Steven Soderbergh whose first half has been released standalone and is pretty great. Much as I knew about Che, I was surprised to find out some stuff about him, and found it all to be mesmerizing.
History is re-told from the moment when young Ernesto Guevara met Fidel Castro in Mexico City and joined the revolutionary initiative for Cuba. It’s poignant to see Guevara’s idealism while joining what he could only suspect would become so huge and long-lasting. This section benefits from the contrast created by flash-forward documentary-style scenes of an older Guevara conceding an interview, complete with long hair, beard, cigar and beret. The rest is a different story.
After Fidel, Che, and the gang take off, the astonishing portrayal of their struggles looks so real you can nearly touch it. After a while, I really felt like I was there, and that doesn’t happen to me often. Then I unfortunately kept being reminded that I was not, courtesy of the eventually annoying flash-forwards to the interview and to a memorable UN Assembly where he participated, which not only slow down the action and give the film a documentary style but also, and this is much worse, remind us that no matter what happens during what we’re watching, Che will become a very big figure.
I mean, we all know how this will end, more or less, but you know the drill in good historical movies, which really make you concerned or excited that history just might change or is shaping up, the way things are looking… That the effect is lost because of the constant reality checks truly marred the biopic experience for me; I would’ve preferred to see Ernesto become Che, not already be him and remember how he came to be.
And because that’s out of my system, I can continue praising what is good, and there’s a lot of it. The gritty realism, photographed by Soderbergh himself (as Peter Andrews), is truly awe-inspiring. Filmed in Mexico, we’re really transported to Cuba, we can live the guerrilla and the takeover of small towns, as well as the big struggle of the revolutionaries and their foes.
Living the experience first-hand, emotionally amplified by Alberto Iglesias’s score, we can finally understand what went on in the minds of these people. It’s funny how after a while we don’t really remember that they’re Marxists that the western world has come to repudiate, because from their point of view, they’re doing what they must. At least that’s how it is for Che; for Fidel, that likable mastermind bastard, it might be a game of power… who knows, this film isn’t about him.
The two main performers, Benicio del Toro as Che and Demián Bichir as Fidel, are outstanding, particularly the lead, who finally perfected his Spanish and never appears to be anyone else but Che, from younger to older, impressively characterized. Catalina Sandino Moreno is also notable in a significant role.
Now we’ll have to wait and see how the second half is; I really hope it’s victorious.
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