17 January 2009

At the movies: Che.

Part One gives revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara the cinemascope biopic treatment, tracking the Cuban revolution he and Fidel Castro engineered against the government of Fulgencio Batista. Part Two, a more intimate and raw affair, explores Guevara's abortive Bolivian campaign.

Together, they allow director Steven Soderbergh to turn his scientific eye on the methodologies of a movement, and the end result is as hypnotic and weird a history lesson as one could hope for.

Benicio del Toro won the Best Actor at 2008's Cannes Film Festival with his portrayal of Che, even as countless ink was spilled about how uncommercial and odd the undertaking was (two films totalling four and a quarter hours, dealing with a controversial public figure, in a language other than English). But now, several months later, following remarkable success in its December Academy Award-qualifying run, Che becomes even more an object of mystery and surprise acclaim and appeal.

There's a certain ambivalence to Soderbergh's directorial eye, and it oddly makes him the perfect man for the story of Ernesto Guevara. Part One's procedural approach to building a political movement hits all the big ticket beats, with tanks and triumphant speechery, but Part Two's handheld detailing of the collapse of Che's movement is where all the good stuff is. It's got that weird 'going crazy, besieged in the jungle' feel of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, and with an exquisite supporting performance from Run Lola Run and The Bourne Identity's Franka Potente.

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