Sunday, July 21, 2013

Che - Part One

Che - Part One; biography/ drama, USA/ France/ Spain, 2008; D: Steven Soderbergh, S: Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir, Rodrigo Santoro, Catalina Sandino Moreno

In '56, doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara meets Fidel Castro on the Mexican soil who tells him about the exploitation and utter poverty of the Cuban people ever since it is ruled by the US-backed Batista, who is also giving large portions of wealth to the US. Che and the others travel to Cuba to start a revolution. Plagued at first by asthma and general shortage of fighters, Che eventually gains the trust of the Cuban people and helps them cure them as a doctor. Eventually, they take over Santa Clara, so that Havana is the only town left, while Batista fled the country.

The first part of Steven Soderbergh's tandem biopic about Cuban revolutionary and anti-imperialist Ernesto "Che" Guevara, "Che - Part 1" is much more interesting during the scenes when the hero is talking than during those moments when he is fighting. From an artistic point of view, the movie lacks in passion and energy when presenting the battle for Cuba as bland, routine, formal and detached: how did Che manage to win battle after battle when he was outnumbered by Batiasta's soldiers? Little to nothing of a sense of strategy and insight was shown with which he managed to break through, except in the aspect that he gains the faith of the people of Cuba (he creates schools to teach them how to spell and write; he sees townspeople without medical care because he is a doctor...), which leaves that dimension of the story deficient. On the other hand, Benicio Del Toro's acting (for which he won the best actor prize at the Cannes film festival) comes to full expression in the dialogue sequences. In the opening scenes, for instance, we find out about Che's shock when he hears about the conditions on Cuba from Castro, how allegedly 1% of people control 46% of the land, how 37% of the people are illiterate, how the Cuba-US trade is suddenly one billion $ in favor of the US, which explains his motives for going there and joining the revolution. The movie is also notable for showing two very rare speeches Che gives at the UN and on TV ("Two hundred million people in Latin America are starving so that the US can have economic growth"), which are explosive and thought provoking, illustrating how nations cannot only be free through democracy, but must also be free through economy. Some have complained that Che is presented in an overtly idealized fashion, that his controversial side is whitewashed, but Del Toro's devotion is strong nonetheless.  


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