REVIEW: DVD Release: Che: Part Two

Film: Che: Part Two
Release date: 29th June 2009
Certificate: 15
Running time: 129 mins
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Demián Bichir, Rodrigo Santoro, Benicio Del Toro, Catalina Sandino Moreno, María D. Sosa
Genre: Biography/Drama/History/War
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: Spain/France/USA

Together with Che: Part One, this completes the epic two-film drama about the life of Che Guevara from Ocean’s Eleven director Steven Soderbergh, and starring Benicio Del Toro.

This was the film Soderbergh originally intended to make; a war drama about Che’s final revolutionary struggle before his death. Whilst it is better to watch it after seeing Che: Part One, it functions as a standalone film because it does not simply pick up the story depicted in the first film. It begins several years later with an announcement from Che that he has done all he can in Cuba, so he is resigning from his position as a military and political leader in the country in order to lead revolutions wherever else needs him.

He travels to Bolivia in disguise and quickly sets up base deep within the jungle, using a false name even with his supporters so that nobody knows where he is. The country is in the same situation Cuba was several years ago, with impoverished, powerless peasants under the repressive control of a military dictatorship.

Once again, Che recruits local people into his guerrilla army, and makes contacts with the local populations to explain the fight which will soon take place. This time, however, things do not go so smoothly - the people do not seem to be completely on his side. Furthermore, with the events in Cuba so well-known throughout the world, the Bolivian dictator is taking no chances, and enlists the help of the US military. Things only get worse when Che’s own troops split up and disaster ensues. We know from the outset that this is a doomed mission for Che, but he does not go without a fight...

In many ways, this is more of the same that we got in Part One, with the same sequence of events; gathering an army, endless treks through the forests, problems amongst the troops, meetings with the locals, and Che battling his own health problems whilst being a doctor, leader and revolutionary for everybody else. We still do not get a great insight into his private life, apart from the smallest glimpse into his family life at the start of the film. However, in this film, the story that Soderbergh and Del Toro are trying to tell becomes clearer. There is a stronger sense of identity for Che here - he is not first and foremost a family man; he is a revolutionary, and he will pursue revolution almost blindly.

While the situation seems familiar at first, and can leave the viewer wondering exactly what the point is of telling the same story in a different country, it soon becomes clear that this is different. In Cuba, in Part One, there was a feeling of a general struggle; the people wanted to overthrow the government and Che was leading the country to a better future. Here, however, the people seem more concerned about whether there will be any fighting in their town than whether the revolution will succeed. This does not deter Che; he believes he knows what is good for the country. In addition, there is a greater sense of menace from the government’s milita than there was in Part One, so there is a definite sense from the beginning that this mission is ill-fated. While in Part One, Soderbergh built a feeling of optimism, here it is the reverse; there is a sense of pessimism that is compounded as the film goes on. This subtle contrast means that there is a well-constructed symmetry between the two films, which together form a more complex whole.

The structure of the film is again similar to Part One, but it is less choppy and hangs together better. There are no flash-forwards this time, which means that the viewer can really become involved with the story. This also means that it feels like less is happening, but there is far more invested in feelings and tensions between various characters, which actually leaves the viewer with more to think about. Similarly, the greatest drama in this film does not come from the loud action sequences of bombs and gunfire, though this, of course, adds to it, but from the long periods of silence, where all that can be heard is the swish of a branch or a rustle of leaves as the soldiers trek wordlessly through the jungle. This is incredibly powerful for transporting the viewer into the film, and heightens the senses to make it a completely absorbing experience.

Soderbergh has not compromised on the elements which made Part One good; this film is a visual triumph, and while the style is similar so that it flows well from the first film, it reflects the subtle differences of the story itself. The forest scenes are darker and gloomier, with less open spaces, and there are far less scenes of bright, sunlit towns. In the same way, Del Toro gives a masterful performance as Che; one which is slightly darker, with a hint of desperation which did not feature in the interpretation previously.

It would have been easy for this film to simply be a continuation of the first without giving anything new. What makes this powerful is that it flows seamlessly from Part One but gives so much more, and actually enriches the first film because of the contrasts. Not only does it provide subtle but significant contrasts with Part One, it also offers a deeper understanding of the main character. It requires some work on the part of the viewer, but if that is invested, Che: Part Two does not fail to reward.

Engaging and powerful, this film is a feast for the senses. It provides a perceptive and complex portrayal of one man’s last stand. KS

No comments:

Post a Comment