Che – Part 1 (2009)
Viva La revolution!! Ah, January. After the excesses of the holiday period I always look forward to the fertile January and February release pattern as the studios simultaneously unleash the European prints of their Oscar hopeful productions and the quirky, uncertain, vaguely esoteric movies which are unceremoniously dumped amongst the prestige projects. I kicked off 2008 with three of the years best films, judging by my first visit to the cinema in 2009 we are on track for another successful run of efficacious viewings.
‘Che‘ is the first of a diptych of films exploring the life of the legendary revolutionary, the darling of all champagne socialists and insubordinate students the world over since his murder by Bolivian troops in 1967. Part One flits between Ernesto’s visit to the UN in 1964 which is presented in a textured black and white free-wheeling handheld style, an approach which vividly collides with the crisply photographed armed struggle against the Batista dictatorship in the jungles of Cuba between 1956 and 1958 which was a crucial period of conflict that fostered the success of the wider Cuban revolution. Through this pincher movement director Steven Soderbergh slowly unveils the drive, intelligence and passion of this iconic figure, never lapsing into any unnecessary, clumsy psychological reasoning for his ideology which usually plague US biopics. It doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the revolution either, deserters are ruthlessly executed on Che’s orders as nothing can interfere nor interrupt the success of the People’s insurrection.
A terrific start to the year, ‘Che‘ is a tense and absorbing film that provides a fine education of the historical events surrounding this almost mythical counter-cultural figure. With the exception of Catalina Moreno whom you may recognise from ‘Maria Full Of Grace‘, Del Toro is the only recognisable actor in the entire film, even Castro was portrayed by an unknown actor to me which all adds to an authenticity that stunt casting in the likes of the aforementioned ‘W’ sorely lack. It also helps to have most of the film subtitled which I’m sure was a difficult sell to the films domestic and international distributors. Del Toro is outstanding and will no doubt get an Oscar nod, he delivers a very internal performance as there are no big speech scenes or inspiring portraits of our glorious hero against enchanting Cuban sunsets, it’s all quiet dedication and patient inspiration to his guerrillas and acolytes. I’m a big fan of Soderbergh and this holds all the qualities of his best work, revolutionary (if you’ll excuse the phrase) cross-cutting, fine performances, a deft and lean storytelling style that does not linger or bore the viewer coupled with subtle yet effective inflections of an art-house style that also grace his other best work. The film concludes with a climactic final battle which illustrates Che’s military prowess as well as his political expertise, looking forward to the wider consequences of the movements achievements that I’m sure are tackled in Che Part Two. Looks like I’ll have to wait until February for part two….