Thursday, February 19, 2009

"che" movie review

i finally watched the 4+ hour epic length "che" sunday afternoon. i did this instead of a second run, to log a few extra miles, after the trrc freezer 5 miler that morning. it was part two of my weekend double feature (with "frozen river" on saturday). "che" was on my list of movies "to see" ever since it premiered at the new york film festival last fall. it is really two separate and distinct films: part one, "the argentine," covers the 2 years that led up to the cuban revolution and, part two, "the guerrilla," covers the last 2 years of che's life, as he struggled to foment revolution in boliva.

both parts, shown together with an intermission, is the roadshow edition. after a brief run together, the two parts will be shown as independent films. that, thankfully, is the best way to process this incredibly long production. while i thoroughly enjoyed part one, my overall impression of the combined films was greatly diminished because of part two. together, i'd give the combined "che" a solid "b" (for positively bloated). individually, part one is easily an "a" while part two dropped down to a "c."

maybe my expectations were too high, but the academy was certainly not remiss when it overlooked che at the nominations. one significant weakness is the sheer absence of any background on che the person. the audience, unless previously aware of his bio, would not know about che's upper class background - and how he travelled from that life to one that identified almost exclusively with the campesinos he fought for. to bridge that glaring gap (omission), i'd urge viewers to see "the motorcycle diaries" before "che."

in fact, skip "che," part two entirely. instead, substitute "the motorcycle diaries" as the essential prequel to "che," part one, "the argentine." those two films, taken together, combine for a powerful, synergistic, viewing experience. conversely, the 2+ hours spent watching an aimlessly (painfully) out of place che wander the bolivian countryside, seriously attenuated the power of part one. it's was depressing. not to mention, the most sustained and meaningful dialogue uttered in part two occurred in the last 10 minutes of the film!

politically, this is a 4+ hour che love-fest. it makes no effort to paint him in a negative light or even allude to any unpleasant part of his character. in making him the perfect revolutionary, the filmmakers somehow managed to make fidel castro himself come off as the moderate! he is the one - even if completely insincere - willing to compromise with the political opponents of batista. while che naively asks "why" fidel deigns to meet with them! rather than make che seem committed and unimpeachable, he comes off looking like a clueless rube.

similarly, in part two, are we really expected to believe that che did not realize the extent to which the local population actively helped the government forces? in a total reversal of the political perspective of in part one - where the cuban peasantry was sympathetic to the revolutionaries - the bolivians had no interest in him or his revolution. it's almost lamentable that the officer who questioned him at the end, had to follow up che's answer to why he was there in bolivia with the - quiet, but chilling, rejoinder - "we already had our revolution."

so, imho, the best bet is to watch che's cuban revolution (part one) and skip his efforts to export revolution to bolivia (part two). the even better bet is to start off with "the motorcycle diaries," then watch "che," part one. that combination is an a+

viva la revolucion!


DawnB said...

4 hours!! way too long.

A Plain Observer said...

As I was growing up the chec was a figure teenagers had in their folders. It was a cool thing to have not understand the reality of the revolution. As we all started paying bills, those idealistic notions went out the window into reality.