Review: Che (Part 1)

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Here it is, the first chunk of Steven Soderbergh’s long awaited two-part portrayal of Che Guevara: the revolutionary (we already had Che Guevara, the compassionate student in the form of Walter Salles’ Motorcycle Diaries). Anybody looking for a comprehensive examination of the wider historical situation surrounding the Cuban Revolution should probably look elsewhere, however if you are willing to give it the time it deserves, what you’ll see is a surprisingly well-handled account of the Guerrilla warfare that provided a backbone to Castro’s revolution.

although almost certainly based on real events, one cannot help feeling disappointed that such a formulaic scene was allowed into what is otherwise a first-rate film

Nevertheless, Che: Part 1 is far from a glamorous war movie in the style of the now thankfully forgotten Che!, nor does it claim any exclusive insight into Guevara’s psychological mindset. Indeed one could happily watch large swathes of the film without needing to know anything about Guevara, or easily envisage this turning into a film trying to encapsulate everything Guevara stood for. But this would have been a mistake – and would have resulted in a film far less convincing than Che: Part 1 actually turns out to be. Its great success is that it refuses to be drawn into the impossible task of constructing a complete account of the myth of Che, instead director Steven Soderbergh focuses on the material reality of Guevara the revolutionary, not the idealised figure we all know from the t-shirts. Likewise Soderbergh (thankfully) refrains from making too many incursions into the particulars of Che’s revolutionary theory. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hollywood film attempt to handle Revolutionary Marxism, and the reasons for this are many and valid.

anybody looking for a comprehensive examination of the wider historical situation surrounding the Cuban Revolution should probably look elsewhere

Despite generally avoiding too many filmic clichés, it has to be said that there are a few hackneyed moments of directorial shorthand; for instance, the moment in which we are shown how noble Che could be when he executes two guerrillas who used their positions of power to steal from peasants and rape their daughters. Although almost certainly based on real events, one cannot help feeling disappointed that such a formulaic scene was allowed into what is otherwise a first-rate film.

For all its austerity and discipline, Soderbergh’s film is a sprawling epic that thoroughly deserves its lengthy run-time. Of course there will be some that come away frustrated by its general unwillingness to offer a simplistic biographical account of Guevara’s life, but those willing to accept its (infrequent) failures will find Che: Part 1 mesmerising.

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