Monday, February 09, 2009

Steven Soderbergh's Che (***1/2)

I'm not going to write many details about this movie. I can safely assume that the important subjects in this biopic, will be talked about in the comments.

There are two versions of the Che movie. One is called the Roadside Edition. This version is the admission cost of two movies, and includes a free booklet. The movie is shown in full, both Part I called The Argentine and Part II called Guerilla in 41/2 hours. The other version is for theaters to show the two parts seperately on different dates. As of today I only saw Part I. Part I starts in Mexico and goes through to the victory of the revolution, with scenes in black and white of Che at the UN. Part II is mostly about Bolivia and his capture. Both parts stand alone as good movies.

I don't understand why Benicio del Toro wasn't nominated for the Best Actor Award, at this year's Oscars. He won Best Actor at Cannes. He seemed thinner than I've ever seen him. You don't often see a main character constantly having asthma attacks.

Benicio del Toro was one of the producers of this film. He spent a few years, studying Che's writings, and meeting people in his life, including his wife.

The movie is in Spanish, with English subtitles. The Puerto Rican del Toro, mastered the Argentine accent of Che.

The camera work was a hand held camera style, with black and white footage in a newsreel style, showing the later UN visit. Soderbergh refrained from using close-up shots, to respect Che's collectivist beliefs.

I found the film mostly accurate. Some of the important debates were beyond Soderbergh's grasp to delve into, but they were touched on, as what is more important, the underground in the urban areas or the guerilla fight? Anybody who has read this blog any amount of time, knows my opinion.

Some of the best parts are related to the ethics of the revolution, as dealing with traitors and thiefs.

This movie is a mirror on Che, not a dramatization like the movie W. It didn't try for much more than the historical record.



SecondComingOfBast said...

How many movies does this guy warrant? It hasn't been that long since The Motorcycle Diaries. Does the movie touch on his troubled relationship with Castro, or does it gloss over it? Well, I guess that would be in the second part of the film.

I still don't see what qualifies him as such a counter-culture hero. I guess he looks good on a t-shirt, but so would Lenin, or for that matter Castro himself, if you really wanted to make a statement-or Khruschev, at least if you're going for grins. All Che really did was kill a bunch of people and screw a bunch of stuff up.

I used to wonder if Guevara was complicit in the Kennedy assassination, but he probably would have screwed that up too, so more than likely not.

Vicky said...

I mostly agree with your review, although the camera stayed a little too far away from Che for my liking- I guess I wanted a bit more insight into the man behind the revolutionary (that sounds a bit cliche doesn't it?) I also found it deeply frustrating to only go and see part one- I'm eagerly awaiting the release of part two here. I suspect it would be far better to see both parts together.

Del Toro is brilliant though, fantastic performance even with quite a limited amount to do.

Frank Partisan said...

Pagan: Neither you or Soderbergh are capable of analyzing differences between Castro and Guevara. Both parts are war movies.

Che was criticized within Cuba, for not having enough executions. The executions were popular, because of Batista having executed thousands.

The Cubans were correct to expand the revolution. You can't have socialism on one island. They weren't that theoretically sharp. They did understand that the US didn't invade again because of Vietnam. They were trying to take pressure off the Vietnamese.

The Congo was a failure. They learned enough to win in Angola, and destroy apartheid in South Africa.

Kennedy was killed by the mob.

Infantile: The local Cuba Solidarity Group had a forum here.

The second part is about Bolivia.

The movie is incorrect that Bolivia wasn't ripe for revolution. It actually was ripe, because a year later it erupted. Che was wrong to use guerillaism. Part II does expose the treachery of the Stalinists.

It is universally acknowledged Part I is best.

In Minneapolis they showed both parts together, for an expensive admission cost.

A writer for the New York Times, wrote an 800 page bio of Che. That is mostly what the movie is based upon. He was good with Che's early years, but incapable of understanding the after revolutionary period.

Che got the Trotskyists out of jail.

Larry Gambone said...

I can't wait to see this film, or seemingly films. I think the almost universal appeal of Che is that contrary to politicians and capitalists he fought and died to improve the lot of the great mass of the people. (Even those who disagree with his ideology have to admit this.) He didn't take the easy way out. He could have stayed in Cuba and been a govt. official but he chose not to. He was also a rebel - he could not fit well within the strait-jacket of Stalinism. He reminds me more of Beneventura Durutti than any Stalinist figure. His involvement with Stalinists - or Stalinist influenced people - was a result of the era in which he lived rather than a clear ideological choice on his part. To the left of social democracy, Stalinism was hegemonic. At this time anarchism, Trotskyism and anti-Stalinist socialist groups were tiny, victims of fascism and Stalinism. Were he a young man today, I believe he would be a Trotskyist or an Especifismo anarchist.

Frank Partisan said...

Larry G: Mao always tried playing him off against Castro, after the Cuba missile crisis. Che was upset the missiles were removed. Mao took advantage of that rift. Castro never once visited China, during Mao's reign. He really hated him.

Regis Debray did quite a bit, to perpetuate the guerilla theories. I think he was with him in Bolivia. Now DeBray denounces guerillaism, after popularizing it.

He always was hated by the pro-Russian Stalinist bureaucrats.

Jabiz said...

I just watched both parts of this film via torrents and although I was entertained throughout the 4 ½ hours I was disappointed in that it wasn’t longer and didn’t cover enough material. I devoured the Jon Lee Anderson bio a few years back and was hoping for your typical bio-pic that covers all aspects of his life.

This is not that type of movie, Sodenberg actually skips the entire 5 or 6 years Che spent running Cuba. Having said that, I think this is a good exercise in helping people somewhat knowledgeable with his life to visualize key moments in the Cuban revolution. Love the B&W in part one!

But this is not your typical bio-pic. As for how many movies does he warrant, Motorcycle Diaries was about his younger life before he became a revolutionary. So it is a completely different era.

He was a counter culure hero, because no matter what he always stood on the side of the oppressed and did his best to spread these ideals to every corner of the earth.

I recommend reading the book over watching the film.

Frank Partisan said...

Intrepid Flame: Anderson's book I'm told, is good for the parts before the revolution. He is unable to assess Che accurately, after the revolution took part.

Anonymous said...

The Cubans were correct to expand the revolution. You can't have socialism on one island.

You lost me, Ren. Why is this?

Anonymous said...

Did you ever read Aldous Huxley's "Island"?

Frank Partisan said...

Didn't read Huxley.

Just like Ron Paul is incorrect that capitalism can work in one country. Capitalism always needs new markets.

A small island needs assistance from the outside, much like exchanging MDs for oil, as with Venezuela.

Both capitalism and socialism are world systems.

Anonymous said...

A small island needs assistance from the outside, much like exchanging MDs for oil, as with Venezuela.

Maybe Easter Island or Pitcairn did. But the same can't be said for most of Polynesia. Your economy only needs outside assistance if it's unsustainable.

Anonymous said...

...and who wants an "unsustainable" society for a "world nodel". The social contract ain't a suicide pact.

Larry Gambone said...

Er, Farm Boy, "Island" is a work of fiction. I read it not long after it came out and found it very good, as Huxley works out his ideas through it. But it was not meant as a practical example or a blue print.

Craig Bardo said...


It's all about capitalist subversion theory, which is quite fascinating. Trotsky believed that unless the revolution were worldwide and simultaneous, capitalists would undermine the revolution. It is like global warming theory, it morphs once confronted with evidence that proves it wrong into newer cooling, global warming and now global climate change which covers all the bases, so whether the planet is cooling, as it has for the last decade (blowing up the linear global warming theory) or it's warming or staying the same, the bases are covered.

We all have our theoretical crosses to bear. I contend Trotskyism is a more romantic notion than me wishing away the federal reserve and FDR's court packing which severely eroded property rights. There's actually a chance that what I want might someday happen, whereas a Trotskyist revolution. To be fair though, you can't disprove Trotsky's theory with Cuba, although I would argue that an island with plenty of natural resources, like Cuba, is a pretty good laboratory for such a theory.

Craig Bardo said...

I intended to write:

whereas a Trotskyist revolution...

Larry Gambone said...

It isn't just a Trotskyist concept, CB. Nor can you reduce the problem to to subversion. Modern economies are inter-linked and inter-dependent. If one country went on its own it would be forced either to compromise with global capitalism or become autarchic. The latter would involve a huge expenditure of wealth and energy leading to lower living standards and hence internal conflict. This in turn would lead to either compromising with the global corporate order or an increasingly authoritarian government to repress dissent. In either situation the socialist experiment is destroyed.

"World revolution" does not mean every country in the world or even a majority of them. It means a power bloc of countries developed enough to challenge corporate hegemony. Think of the EU plus most of Latin America going socialist...

Tula 49 said...

I have only seen the first part so far, but it is a pretty good movie. I doubt that it has an incredibly sharp theoretical or historical edge in some cases, though, as Renegade Eye seems to have seen the whole thing and states that both parts are war movies.

Guerrillaism/focoism was also proven to be a failure when it came to Bolivia. The action of taking a small handful of people and starting a guerrilla war without any real links to working class action in the cities seems like a regurgitation of Propaganda of the Deed, IMO.

Frank Partisan said...

CB: The Russian Revolution would have been different, if Germany had a revolution at the same time.

Part of the cause of Stalinism was isolation.

Permanent revolution is not the whole world having revolution simultaneously. Socialism needs to spread, as much as capitalism.

FJ: There is discussions going on in Cuba now, about its future. Some want it to go in a path as China.

Unfortunately the best voice for a socialist direction Celia Hart, died in an auto accident, at the time of the hurricane.

Larry G: Cuba is advanced in healthcare, and storm survival. The rightists of Florida, would dismantle the healthcare and schooling.

Tula49: I agree.

Joseph Dubonnet said...

I am reading a lot about Che lately. Tee review was accurate and very interesting. The revolution will not happen before we have a majority of revolutionaries. we must transform ourselves day by day into revolutionaries. As Castro said, a revolutionary must do the revolution...

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