CHE: PART ONE: The Film Babble Blog Review
March 17, 2009 Leave a comment
CHE: PART ONE (Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2008)
The prospect of an over 4 hour historical epic spread over 2 separate contained movies will no doubt be daunting to most moviegoers, but the first half of CHE is incredibly involving despite its murkiness and powerful despite its sometimes plodding pace. Originally released last December for it to be eligible for the years Oscars (it didn’t get nominated for anything) in a limited release as one combined film, it now hits the rest of the country in a “special roadshow edition” with PART TWO following close behind PART ONE‘s release.
PART ONE mostly takes place in the late 50’s with an asthmatic Ernesto “Che” Guevara, portrayed with fierce grace by Benicio del Toro (also one of the film’s producers), joining Fidel Castro’s (a dead on Demian Bichir) movement in Havana, Cuba. It has a flashback framework serving as semi narration from a 60’s interview with TV journalist Lisa Howard (Julia Ormond), later cutting between Guevara’s United Nations address and intense street warfare. These non-Cuban set-pieces are presented in grainy black and white, while the gritty yet vivid color of the exteriors enforces the implication that all that isn’t in the heart of the jungle for Che is simply artifice and not real life.
With the subtitle “THE ARGENTINE” (and Spanish subtitles to boot), this film works well on its own yet still leaves one wanting for a follow-up. Soderbergh successfully structures a docu drama feel in which real footage and photographs blend beautifully with the immacualte recreations. It is indeed a shame that the Academy snubbed this film, particularly del Toro whose precise performance is definitely in the league of Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk potrayal that took home the award. Penn himself was shocked and pondered over the lack of award nods for CHE suggesting that: “Maybe because it’s in Spanish, maybe the length, maybe the politics.” None of those factors should deter folks from taking the plunge into CHE: PART ONE; it may be tough going at times but it’s impossible to ignore its soaring sense of purpose. Several satisfying though viciously violent sequences save the film from inaccessibility and in moments like when del Toro answers interviewer Ormond’s question about what is the most important quality for a revolutionary to possess by saying “love” he is utterly convincing. Here’s hoping PART TWO: GUERILLA lives up to PART ONE’s mighty promise.