Hugely successful at the Cannes Film Festival, with rumours of Academy nominations being thrown up left, right and centre, Che is a two-part, four hour long biopic about the Marxist revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Impact takes a look at the first, The Argentine, and asks if it really lives up to the hype?

The first part charts the late 1950s oust of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista under the leadership of Fidel Castro and the 26th of July Movement.

Considering this is a biopic about one of the most iconic symbols of our century, the director Steven Soderbergh seems overly concerned with guerrilla warfare and revolution in general. These are obviously interesting topics in themselves but it is frustrating to watch a biopic about Che Guevara completely ignore some of the other equally important aspects of his character. His alluring and persuasive intellect, his experiences as a doctor and his darker, more negative qualities didn’t feature at all, leaving the portrayal feeling absent of complexity.

The question of Benicio Del Toro’s performance and its merit for an Academy Award is difficult to answer, purely because he has unfairly had his wings clipped by a director who, rather annoyingly, hasn’t allowed him to fully explore some of the most interesting and admirable aspects of Che’s personality. Del Toro’s performance was therefore fairly convincing given that he never had the opportunity to exhibit any significant amount of inner emotion.

Che
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Release Date: 1st January 2009. UK
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Franka Potente, Rodrigo Santoro
In response to criticism, Soderbergh said “the bottom line is we’re just trying to give you a sense of what it was like to hang out around this person. That’s really it.” Well I didn’t leave thinking I knew the real Che at all, especially since a lot of the film was spent slogging through the jungle. I can only assume the justification for giving such a fractured and diluted depiction is that he has assumed a certain level of prior knowledge about Guevara (Soderbergh is unrealistically hoping his audience has already seen The Motorcycle Diaries) and doesn’t feel it necessary to do any more than scratch the surface. This is just, quite frankly, lazy. A four hour ‘epic’ entitled Che shouldn’t need any prior knowledge about the subject and should stand up as a self contained film in itself. Anyone with little knowledge of Che Guevara, and knows him only as “that guy on the t-shirt”, will leave the cinema feeling genuinely confused and with no greater understanding as to why he is such an emblematic symbol today.

Soderbergh was trying to show the world what it didn’t already know about Che Guevara, but his insistence on maintaining a sense of detachment and formalism means you never enter into Che’s world, frustratingly remaining confined to his politics and never going any further. Disappointingly average.

Laurence Eliott

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