Thursday, September 22, 2011

Film Notes: Che - A Revolutionary Life, Part One

This film is the first of Steven Soderbergh's two-part biopic of the iconic Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara. When I was at University, *that* poster still adorned a few bedroom walls and was still available in the shops, but had long since been replaced by the REM flag as the trendiest undergraduate wall decoration. Nevertheless Che Guevara's image and status, (and what he had come to represent, as much as what he was) have loomed large over the last half-century making him a worthy subject for a biographical film.

This film has got a lot going for it too; some good acting, some excellent filming and direction, nice cutting back and forth in time between planning the revolution, the post revolutionary situation as well as nicely filmed action scenes from the war itself. In all this, the later scenes were by far the most convincing, when Che, by then a Cuban government minister, visits the USA and debates at the United Nations.

Despite all this, there is something missing in this movie. It somehow lacks 'bite' or anything to draw the audience in to an emotional engagement with either the characters or the narrative. I suspect that this happens for a number of reasons. Firstly we are given no clue as to why the young doctor is so radically politicised (so you have to watch The Motorcycle Diaries yourself first!), we are given little clue, save for few lines of dialogue, as to the conditions and practices that made so many South Americans embrace Marxism in that era. Therefore we never discover the source of the revolutionary anger that drives the movement. Che's rejection of peaceful revolution via Civil Disobedience, General Strikes and so forth is documented alongside his absolute commitment to armed revolt; but we never discover his reasons - which are therefore sloppily left in romantic warrior-myth genre.

While this is certainly an engaging and interesting film, it seems to depend too much on that much-vaunted 'iconic' central character to carry it. A more satisfying film would not have tried to piggy-back so much on that; but probed it and analysed it to see if the iconography was justified. I notice that the second film in this series, charting his final battles in Bolivia received much better reviews that this - perhaps it will address some of the faults of Part One.


His Girl Friday said...

Loved the Motorcycle diaries. Thought I was just watching an adventure film, came to adore the main character, and about jumped out of my seat when I realised it was Che...Had only 'heard' one (negative) version of him. :)
Have had some interesting conversations with my Cuban and SAm friends since then. :)

That Hideous Man said...

Well I think a lack of more probing questions is what spoils the film.