Che: Part Two (2009)

February 27, 2009

Just a quick note to say that this is the 100th set of notes I’ve done since I started on here on 23rd December last year.  Maybe I should broaden my interests.

100

And now on with the waffle.  I gave Che: Part One a bit of a kicking– certainly in comparison to the opinions of my more trusted friends- because it was a bit overlong and dull.  That can’t be said of Che: Part Two.  The second installment is more focused and visually (maybe even viscerally) exciting.  And I was more struck by Del Toro’s performance this time too- perhaps being the leader in a losing battle, as opposed to Castro’s lieutenant in a successful one, simply gave him better material to work with.

One of the things I was keen to understand was whether this film would stand alone as a piece of work or if it was simply an adjunct to the first film.  And I’m not convinced that it does necessarily.  As a biopic this teaches us nothing about the man and as an holistic film it makes references to events and people from Che: Part One  without contextualising them at all.  But does that really matter?  The success of the film surely lies in the more important question of ‘is it any good?’, rather than ‘is it all tied-up neatly?’.  And so I have learned something today- I have learned that the questions you take into a film aren’t as important as the answers you take from it.

Knowing from the outset that the film depicts a doomed Che doesn’t necessarilly have to be a handicap- Downfall / Der Untergang  manages to be gripping, for example- but it is here.  The Bolivian Revolution which Che arrives, brilliantly disguised though he is, to lead is shambolic and has little popular support.  The propaganda efforts of the Bolivian Government and the militaristic support they have from the CIA ensure that the little support it has from the outset dwindles and the prospect is bleak.  In the midst of this, Che leads his small band of guerillas in ever diminishing circles around the hilly Bolivian jungle for a couple of hours as they get picked off by the surrounding armies.  They get split up and stumble off in opposite directions with the vague hope that they will meet up somewhere as-yet-undecided.  The lack of clear strategic thinking and decisiveness is palpable- this is not a fanciful or airbrushed depiction of the man by any means- and exemplified by his travelling without his asthma medication which hampers the entire enterprise, perhaps fatally.  At no point is there any prospect for any of the guerillas but capture and death- the futility of the expedition which struggles against the wilful acts of sabotage by the peasants they are attempting to free is startling.  But the narrative is weak, the political context of the piece woefully underexamined and the characters are barely any different when they finish from where they start.  The script is so flimsy that it could be boiled down to “Small army takes on big army.  Loses.”. 

Is it a good film?  I’m not sure about that.  It reminds me a lot of Quantum of Solace in that the shaky handicam action and intense action scenes act in lieu of character development, interesting dialogue or plot.  Does it either lionise Che or vilify him?  No, neither.  Will I watch it again?  Probably- though not for quite some time. 4/10

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Che: Part One (2009)

January 15, 2009

I was looking forward to this a lot.  I have a lot of time for Del Toro and I respect a lot of what Soderbergh tries to do, even if his films usually leave me cold (not just the popcorn-sellers like Oceans Thirteen either, I can’t get on with Sex, Lies and Videotape or Erin Brockovich at all).  Most importantly of all, though, the subject matter is compelling.  But the film left me flat.

It’s well made, it looks great, Del Toro does a great job, the grainy black and white post-revolution interviews contrasted with the vivid jungle warfare were excellent- but it’s just dull.  Other than the first half-hour which drags, the film isn’t flabby- just a bit repetitive.  It’s not that nothing happens, it is simply that the film didn’t engage me when things did happen.  Certainly not when they appeared to repeat themselves (it must be hard to differentiate between repeated ambushes in the same type of jungle, I’m sure).  If the second part is like this too, then I’d say we’re looking at a three-hour movie experience extended into a four-hour-get-the-punters-in-twice cash cow.  I call that the Grindhouse effect.

Perhaps I’m being harsh because I’ve been treated to such genuinely magnificent film-making recently, but I don’t think so.  I just think Soderbergh got a bit carried away with himself and needed someone making him step back and be objective about what really enhanced the film and what didn’t.  5/10.  Imagine if there’s an extended Director’s cut- fuck me!