CAPSULE: Two more of Che Guevara's diaries are adapted into film. Steven Soderbergh makes two long films that can be seen as one very long film covering Che's Cuban and Bolivian guerilla campaigns. Benicio del Toro looks the part, but Soderbergh does little to flesh out his other characters. Just following what is happening is hard work. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
CHE is not really one film but two. When I saw it, it was in two parts, one about the Cuban insurrection and one about the Bolivian one. Each part had opening titles and closing credits. I do not know if that is how it will be released, or if it will be stitched together to make a single film. It could even make a trilogy if one included Walter Salles's film, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES. All three are based on the accounts of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. "Part One" is a dramatization of his REMINISCENCES OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR and "Part Two" of his BOLIVIAN DIARY.
Then again "Part One" and "Part Two" are really not so different. They are accounts of Che in Cuba or Bolivia fighting in (or slogging through) the forest or going into little towns to win converts and to try to get food and weapons. The two accounts are somewhat disjointed dramatizations of what it is like to be a guerilla. The difference in the campaigns was probably that Batista's Cuban army was not well trained and organized. The Bolivians seem more organized from the start and had training and support from the United States. They are much more effective against the insurgency. Intercut with the Cuban insurgency is a sort of flash-forward to Guevara's 1964 trip to New York City to address the United Nations, done in a sort of documentary style and in grainy black and white. We see just a bit of disdain as he deals with Manhattan liberals, apparently feeling they only talk the talk while he walks the walk--and incidentally, shouldn't he be getting back to the revolution, any revolution? He is at home in the forest, not at a cocktail party.
One problem both parts have is that the films avoid expository lumps to explain what is going on, but at some cost the comprehensibility. United States audiences may have trouble telling characters (and occasionally armies) apart. Keeping up with the subtitles may be an additional problem, particularly since there is not enough contrast with the background to make them readable. Shooting it English-for-Spanish would be an artificial touch but would have made the film more clear. Each part starts by showing a map of the territory where that part takes place and one at a time showing the important locations. This is one step more abstract than remembering people's names at parties. Looking in on the guerilla war for about 130 minutes each part may be taxing. Seeing both films together may actually be something of a project. In addition, director Stephen Soderbergh does little to characterize the fighters or make clear what the strategies are. Here there is an almost documentary style that is a little harder to follow. We get to see a little of Che's discipline and his philosophy of fighting, but nobody beside Che is given much dimension.
Most of the actors besides Benicio del Toro will probably be unfamiliar to United States audiences. "Part Two" has small fleeting roles for Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Philips. Joaquim de Almeida may be familiar from CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER and DESPERADO. The score by Alberto Iglesias is effective, but used sparingly and is rarely used in battle scenes. Soderbergh is going for a natural documentary feel for the fighting and does not use the music to orchestrate emotion.
By seeing the two revolutionary actions only through the eyes of Che and then in a somewhat confused manner, the viewer will not get a good understanding of the politics and will only get a feel of a little of the experience. Certainly the extremes of the Castro Regime are played down with one quick reference that there were executions when Castro took power. This is not an objective view of the conflict but only Che Guevara's view of himself. I rate CHE +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
"Part One": http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0892255/
"Part Two": http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0374569/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper