1 June 2010

Che Part 2: Guerilla - Review

(Steven Soderbergh, 2008)

It seems fitting that my first review, back in the saddle as it were, happens to be the concluding part to my last review on this blog. Che Part 1 - The Argentine, left me alienated and frustrated and in my own words:

‘(whilst) there is so much to admire here; the depth of information about the revolution, the film maker's determination, stunning cinematography and Soderbergh's absolute, resolute, stubbornness to pander and his anti-audience stance. It takes a certain arrogance and belief to make a film like this, purposely taking your audience somewhere new, even if the results are as patchy, it should still be applauded. Despite my problems with Che: Part One, I look forward to the concluding part, mostly in hope that it will clear up the agonising and frustrating estrangement I felt with the first chapter.’

This seems like the perfect point to reflect on that review and to take stock on how two fragments of a whole can affect the individual when watched in separate chapters. Due to that general feeling 'The Argentine' left me rather empty and unwilling to conclude the epic, but finally I got around to the second part, if a good six months later, and it’s more to my pity that I waited for so long, as Part Two: Guerilla, turned out to be one of the most satisfying films of the year. I only wish that I had watched the films back to back, as I'm convinced that this review would have been completely different.

Whereas 'The Argentine' covers the makings of ‘the man, the myth’ aspect, the origins of his ideology and the beginnings of the revolution, Guerilla takes on the subsequent fame, notoriety and belief that surround the icon some seven years later, his dogmatic turns as a politician in Cuba, his swift resignation and fatefully his calling back in the wilderness of guerrilla warfare. Whereas one would expect the tone to be darker than the first part, to which it is by some degree, the subsequent pace at which this happens wears down the viewer and finally brings the viewer to Che, to feel his pain, to feel the claustrophobia, the relentless pain in his chest, it’s as if Soderbergh has held us at length for so long for us only to run into his arms when invited. Which, admittedly, happens only once and boy, is it ever fleeting.

So, it’s to Bolivia, where Che meets his fate, that the second film ultimately turns to and Che’s infinite patience, methodical approach and strategist skills are brought to breaking point. With no backing from the Bolivian communists, little food, bewildered peasants and a relentless hopelessness invading the entire film, Che continues regardless, stoic and resolute to the end. Del Toro is masterful here, his Che becomes more man than myth before the film finishes and despite bedraggled, losing his composure, injured and defeated he’s still able to hold the icon aloft, feeding us the legend without giving anything away.

It’s in the film making also that this resolute trope shines through, throughout 'The Argentine' we moved between dual narratives which grounded the man and his story, Guerilla pointedly refuses this method by throwing us deep into a losing battle, dragging us through the mud as it were. We sit around the fire with Che and his men, waiting for back-up, talking through plans, going through mind numbing repetitive training schedules, knowing the inevitable is around the corner. Those luscious greens and deep reds of the first film make way for shades of grey, murky colours seep into too each other to give a palate of drudge. The camera throws us into the heart of this drudgery with handheld shots and the score by Alberto Igelesias, becomes bleaker, less coherent and those orchestral flourishes from the first part are no more.

Strikingly individual to the very end, Soderbergh has fashioned a beautiful looking take on the bio-pic; four and a half hours is a damn long time to spend with any one man without knowing him that much, yet I believe Soderbergh just about gives us enough to make it worth while. A real slow burner, a patient set up with little resolution which makes the whole enterprise uncompromising and unique; there's no tub-thumping, polemic dogma or Hollywood navel gazing here. Che still remains mysterious, unobtainable and alien even at the film's end, Soderbergh has dared make a bio-pic without the baggage and, once again, the man should be applauded.


Sam Juliano said...

Welcome back Ric! Yes, it would indeed appear fitting that you should tackle Part 2, but I'll admit I'm no fan, as I found this very much like what you related in your introduction:

"It takes a certain arrogance and belief to make a film like this, purposely taking your audience somewhere new, even if the results are as patchy..."

I found this two-part opus drop-dead tedious, redundant, narratively static, and devoid of any inspirationb apart from the art design. Soderbergh has lost it as of late, and neither THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE nor THE INFORMANT rose above mediocrity.

Your scope and writing remains on the highest level, which is far more important than a verdict on this film.

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It has some of the strengths of the first film: the cinematography and direction of Steven Soderbergh, which give the whole work a lifelike, almost documentary feel, and the superb acting of Benicio del Toro who - even more than before - is rarely off the screen.

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Michael Hadfield said...

Stunning work from Soderbergh. Check out some more Che work from Left Hand Gang.

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As a documentary it is amazing, but as a normal movie it is a little be bored , in general, rated 7.3

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