Che (Parts 1 & 2)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 July, 2009, 12:00am

Che (Parts 1 & 2)

Benicio del Toro, Demian Bichir, Catalina Sandino Moreno

Director: Steven Soderbergh

It's easier to say what Steven Soderbergh's Che Guevara double feature isn't than what it is. It might run to an epic four hours, but it's hardly a fully fledged biopic of the revolutionary; nor does it attempt to explain where he came from, as Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries tried and failed to do.

One could even argue that Che offers as little insight into the motives of the man as the popular T-shirts bearing his likeness. We see Guevara, played by Benicio del Toro (right in beret), talking at the UN, cutting through Cuban forests and engaging in ferocious street combat in Bolivian towns, but the film offers scant understanding of what made him tick and where he drew his inspiration from.

Nevertheless, Che is an audacious project, considering how Soderbergh defied all expectations to present Guevara in a highly unconventional way.

Part one, The Argentine, interweaves the main narrative (if there is one) of the struggle against the Batista dictatorship from 1957 to 1959 with flashbacks of Guevara's induction into Fidel Castro's Mexico-based circle of Cuban revolutionaries, and monochromatic sequences of Guevara talking about the Cuban revolution to a journalist, and of his December 1964 trip to New York, where he delivered a stirring speech at the UN General Assembly.

The second part is more linear: living up to its title - Guerilla - the film is nearly a blow-by-blow study of how Guevara conducted his failed insurrection in Bolivia, as he struggles to deal with food shortages, aerial bombardments, betrayal within his ranks and his own asthma.

Just as part one's hectic editing says a lot but offers no profound knowledge about the man, the second part probes the minutiae of Guevara's guerilla life and, incredibly, fails to conjure a person the viewer can engage with.

Granted, Che was a mammoth undertaking, and the result is a memorable experience for the viewer, but it's more remarkable for what it left out. It would have been more intriguing to focus on Guevara's days as a government minister, for example, or his attempts to fuel the anti-colonial struggle in Angola.

Extras: Behind-the-scene featurette, interviews with Soderbergh, del Toro, composer Alberto Iglesias and Guevara biographer Jon Lee Anderson.