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CHE (PART ONE)

Director: STEVEN SODERBERGH

U.S.A.-FRANCE-SPAIN • 2008 SUBTITLED • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 125 MIN


IN STEVEN SODERBERGH’S HANDS, THE STORY OF ERNESTO ‘CHE’ GUEVARA, REVOLUTIONARY HERO OF ANOTHER AGE, IS SIMPLY TOO BIG FOR ONE MOVIE, SO HE’S GIVEN US TWO — TOGETHER THEY SHAPE A UNIQUE ACHIEVEMENT FOR AN AMERICAN FILMMAKER.
This initial instalment focuses on two distinct time periods, intercutting Guevara’s rousing 1964 United Nations speech on a New York visit (where he also gave provocative interviews to the American media), with the course of the paramilitary campaign whereby a small band of committed fighters overthrew an entire government. A brooding Benicio Del Toro has the screen presence to persuade us that Guevara was a natural leader, and although Peter Buchman’s script makes no bones about the corrupt and repressive nature of the Batista regime which he brought down, it’s certainly not a propaganda exercise for Che’s own ideology. Instead, it’s a film about the process of revolution, rather than its intellectual foundations.
To that end, screen-time is spent on the rebels’ disciplined training methods, the strategy of beginning their campaign on the relatively unguarded east of the island, their struggle to win over the hearts and minds of a frightened peasantry, and their uneasy alliance with the Cuban Communist Party of the day. It’s undeniably fascinating to see the pieces fall into place — not the least of which is the revolutionaries’ will to prevail, compared to the regular army’s underpaid troops — as events build to a crucial climactic skirmish, an extended sequence more thrillingly convincing than any conventional war movie. Detailed and illuminating, it’s an utterly engrossing experience. And we’re only halfway through. — Trevor Johnston.

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