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August 3, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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I packed extra sandwiches before embarking on the 262-minute revolutionary bonanza that is Steven Soderburgh’s Che. Separated into two parts, The Argentine focuses on the Cuban revolution, while The Guerrilla looks at Che’s failed attempt to replicate its success in Bolivia. Soderburgh, who must be one of the most peculiar directors working in Hollywood today, has made a painstakingly authentic picture about a figure whose image is more known than his story.

Though screened together, these are really two different films. On a surface level there are stylistic breaks. Where The Argentine is in widescreen, opting for a more classical aesthetic, The Guerrilla is a grittier 1 85:1, its colours are more bleak and its photography more frequently handheld (using the new RED ONE camera). Soderburgh has admitted his intentions with the first part to make a more traditional biopic, and the second a more rough-and-ready “guerrilla procedural”.

The fragmented nature of The Argentine is sometimes awkward but will probably appeal more widely than The Guerrilla, despite the fact I think it is the better of the two halves. The Guerrilla displays a consistency that is absent in the more conventional The Argentine and its tediousness seems to convey the reality of Guerrilla warfare. There is inevitably gunfire and fighting, but a great majority of the film is the fighters hanging around their camp or marching through the flora. Time may have romanticised Guevara’s image but Soderburgh makes sure his struggle is shown for what it was—a lengthy, difficult, and costly forge.

Benicio del Toro’s performance is very good. At times, especially in profile, he looks remarkably like the real Guevara. The films are faithful (based on Guevara’s actual writings) and take care in not overly glorifying their centrepiece. In my years as a teenage radical I read Jon Lee Anderson’s lengthy biography of Guevara and I was pleased to note his prominence in the film’s credits as ‘chief consultant’. Che eschews the romanticism of The Motorcycle Diaries as well as avoiding overt sentimentality around Guevara’s legend. At times its politics are direct comments on America, most obviously in an extract of a voiceover Guevara delivers on free health care. Guevara aficionados should be satisfied, and anyone who has seen him on a t-shirt but never known who he is should check this out. It is rare to find a biopic this faithful, well-intended, and well-made.

Directed by Steven Soderburgh
Written by Peter Buchman
With Benicio Del Toro, Demián Bichir, Santiago Cabrera

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