TIFF Review: Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Che:Guerilla’ Earns The Title Of Epic


The Argentine

Picking up in 1965 one year after his United Nations speech, part two of Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Che’ films rightly earns the title of epic once the entire scope and massive breadth of vision is fully absorbed. Again, it’s a remarkable achievement and, while we’re fine with seeing it in two parts, it’s probably all the more breathtaking in one sitting if you’re that fervent a cineaste.
Having mysteriously disappeared, Guevara has actually assumed a disguised identity as an older man, preparing for his clandestine voyage to Bolivia to start another revolutionary campaign.

Again, shot in a simple, straightforward documentary manner, the lens is like a voyeur silently accompanying the new guerrillas, sometimes masked by the foliage and trees of the Bolivian jungle.

The main difference cinematically is the photography. While part one is shot in the rusty red and orange hues of resplendent Cuba, the rough terrain, inclement weather and harsher conditions are portrayed in an icy cold blue – a metaphorical indication of things to come.

Music is also slightly more integral to “Guerrilla”, with somber and native Spanish guitar musically occasionally accompanying a few transitional scenes. But as is Soderbergh’s agenda in this biopic, most flourishes of typical biopics and dramas are kept to an austere minimum.

An uphill struggle from the get-go, “Che” could have easily been subtitled la vida dura. Che’s miscalculations in Bolivia can be seen as vast, but the flaws are mainly ideological; plus a series of setbacks that lead to an ill-organized effort that should have been abandoned. But before his troops can even entertain that thought, they are outgunned, outnumbered and overwhelmed.

Perhaps one key element of their lack of fortune is the nationalistic nature of the Bolivianos; suspect of foreigners, they’re mostly unwilling to accept an Argentine-Cubano to lead their revolution.

The fantastic element of the storytelling is that every piece of information is inferred. Soderbergh refuses to drop obvious speeches or monologues that explain their plights, but a series of scenes adds up to the sum of the problems.

Del Toro is once again immersively perfect, tranquil and solemn; asserting a man in command who rarely raises his voice with and passionate empathy for human kind that’s all in the eyes. This inner, nuanced performance embodies so much dignity and respect.

Demián Bichir, Joaquim de Almeida and Yul Vazquez also do fantastic jobs as Fidel Castro, the Bolivian Presiden René Barrientos and Acting Minister of the armed forces, Major Juan Almeida respectively (if you can’t find these names, lose the graph please)

The big-picture issue hit major, abortive-level issue early on. The Bolivian communist party refused to back an armed campaign (represented by their leader Lou Diamond Phillips), then disavow their support financially and spiritually – a major blow on multiple levels (other cameos in both films include Franke Potente, Matt Damon, Julia Ormond, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Edgar Ramirez) . Their campaign and Che’s presence is meant to be a secret; the government soon becomes aware of their plans. Fissures also break deeply in the guerrillas spirit when hunger and defeats cause loss in morale and they wander through jungles dejected. The sight is heartbreaking in its subtle manner and the film moves to its inevitable conclusion. Despite all this, ‘Che’s second half is not a downer. Instead it’s another sturdy depiction of a revolution – this time one that ends in failure.


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