Tuesday, July 21, 2009

CHE: THE ARGENTINE, PART ONE (Steven Soderbergh, 2008, Spain)

“Last night I had a dream
That the world had turned around
And all our hopes had come to be
And the people gathered ‘round
They all brought what they could bring
And nobody went without
And I learned a song to sing

The revolution starts now”
-Steve Earle

Ernesto the Argentine wishes to bring a paradigm change to Cuba, to bring equality and freedom to the common people, but he is choked by Castro’s doubletalk and fails to navigate the bloody waters that separate revolution from coup de’tat. Director Steven Soderbergh begins the film with grainy black & white exposition as Che is interviewed in New York City and speaks eloquently at the United Nations about the poisonous American Imperialism that is destroying Latin America. This interesting choice to film the narrative flashbacks, which compromise the majority of the film, in resplendent color is artistically designed to give insight into Che’s intent: firstly, this seems to be the time when he is truly alive, fighting for a cause (debatable whether it is just, or not) and secondly, this gives a dreamlike quality to the war, as if we are witnessing Che’s actions through his emotionally convex lens, a luscious membrane that hides the awful truth that he was deceived by Castro’s megalomania. Benicio Del Toro’s performance as the iconic Revolutionary is wonderful though predictably one-dimensional: Che is portrayed with kindness and sympathy but his executions and murders are carried out off-screen, his victims only mentioned as “traitors”. There is no due process or legal justice, only violence and corruption: we need to see the complex character and not the stark god-like visage that haunts a T-shirt. We need to understand the inner convolutions of this man whose path to Hell was paved with the best of intentions. The film’s kinopravda seems to be one-sided, though the cinematography is journalistic as it soldiers through the mountainous terrain and jungles, giving the audience a documentary perspective. Soderbergh utilizes flashforwards and flashbacks and this explosive structure adds visual frisson to the story, a masterful intervention that transcends the average script and rather mundane dialogue. Finally, the overthrow of Batista is realized and we witness Che traveling towards Havana, scolding his troops for stealing from the very people they helped liberate from oppression: the revolution starts now. (B-)

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