Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Epic: Not Just in Part.

Once the image of a man's face has been appropriated as a contemporary counter-culture logo, then the man himself is undeniably an interesting subject for scrutiny. And yet, Che Part 1 (2008) and Che Part 2 (2008) (formerly titled Che: The Argentine & Che: The Guerrilla respectively) don't really focus on the man by way of psychological profiling, rather, and much to Soderbergh's acclaim, they subtly look at the profile of the man through the re-telling of significantly similar yet disparate events of his life. Despite the films' total and epic combined runtime of 257 minutes, both instalments manage to evade confronting some of the more controversial aspects of Ernesto Che Guevara's life; namely the period where he was involved in ratifying sentences of war criminals, which, in some instances resulted in their deaths by firing squads. It also leaves well alone his early days as a medic - though I dare say that was yet another adroit move by Soderbergh, seeing as Walter Salles certainly had that section of the much-loved man's life covered with the release of The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de Motocicleta, 2004).

Such glaring omissions however lead to the inevitable questioning of what it is that Soderbergh's much anticipated epic tale is about. Well, it's a very measured, diplomatic and thoughtful look at how any one thing cannot be easily characterised for it is always inherently complicated and conflicted. This is well observed through the converse chapters which reveal the success and failure of Che's revolutionary efforts first in Cuba and then in Bolivia. What Soderbergh is really rather poignantly illustrating by dividing the film into these two parts, one showing success and the other showing failure, is that Che was a man as any other; contradictory at times, conflicted in some ways even for a cause that is determined, for it leaves moral and ethic grounds divided, and moreover, that the man is the product of both history and myth; for his triumphs there were shortcomings, for his efforts there were omissions, and for his altruism there was brutality. These things may not be shown explicitly in the film but there implicit presence cannot be denied. Che was a complicated individual and his story is not one that can be easily told. Soderbergh is not taking the easy way out by not turning his story into a psychological profiling of Che, largely because the man's psyche is such that it cannot be fully explained nor understood from the events of history alone. Furthermore, his story is not his own; the story of Che belongs to many, not least the Cuban and Bolivian people as it is a part of their shared histories, and a part of their contemporary identities- for better or worse.

Finally, Del Toro does a terrific job playing a man impossible to portray. Performances were, across the board, outstanding in both parts, and for any and all of its own shortcomings, the finished product is still a masterpiece that I feel sure will stand the cinematic test of time as generations to come will not only have a chance to see Soderbergh's epic tale, but to critique it as well, for I suspect it will be one for the schoolrooms.


  1. Thanks for posting this (and following my blog too, btw.) Che Pt. 1 is showing at my local discount cineplex and Pt. 2 will open up on Friday. I will give my "old movie watching" a break and catch this in the theater while I have the chance!

  2. Cheers Dave, always great to find a fellow movie blogger. Did you go see Che? What did you think?

  3. "any one thing cannot be easily characterised for it is always inherently complicated and conflicted."
    This is so true, not only of people who become iconic and belong to everyone in the world but also of our closest loved ones. Well said.