Toronto: Surviving Soderbergh's 262 Minute Che Double Feature
by Alex Billington
September 12, 2008
Long live the revolution! I recently walked out of a nearly five hour screening session consisting of back-to-back showings of Steven Soderbergh's two films on Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara. It was a grueling experience but one that I'm happy to have gone through - merely because having the chance these two impressive films back-to-back in theaters was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity anyway. Instead of a typical review, however, I just want to put down my thoughts, because there was so much going through my head as I watched all 262 minutes of Che and I just want to mention as much as I can. The two films are a meticulously intimate portrait of Guevara that covers three of his most memorable events in his life - the Cuban revolution in 1956, his trip to the United Nations, and his last revolutionary fight in Bolivia.
One of my favorite moments in the film is when Guevara is answering a question from a reporter in New York City about aspects of guerrilla fighters. He tells her that love is one of the most important aspects and goes on to explain that it's love of their country and love for the people in the country that drives their passion for fighting. It wasn't until part way through the second film that I realized that is exactly what these two films were all about. I finally realized why he's such an iconic political legend and why shirts with his face printed on it are worn by teens all around the world. It's about his passion and undying patriotism and fight to rid injustice that people attach to the most, not his Marxist views or opposition to democracy. If anything, Che does a remarkable job of putting Guevara's political importance into perspective.
Both films really succeed at idolizing the real Che Guevara, courtesy of an incredible performance by Benicio Del Toro, but leaves an opinion on him and his views up to the viewer, like most well-made biopics. In the first film, The Argentine, the cuts between Che's speech at the United Nations in New York City and his fight up through Cuba with Fidel Castro actually worked well, but the story as it played out in the film did not. However, the troubles with this don't lie in the production itself, which on a whole is a phenomenal achievement for both Soderbergh and Del Toro, but rather in Soderbergh's resistance to editing and the lengthy overall story. Even I didn't fully grasp the depth of the revolution at the end of the first film, which is remarkable considering Soderbergh packed in quite a bit in that first 131 minutes.
The second film, Guerrilla, is a somewhat less energetic and less entertaining story on Guevara's attempts to start a revolution in Bolivia under Fidel Castro's orders. This film takes everything that was outlined in the first film, from Guevara's commentary on guerrilla fighters in the interview, to his battles with a contingent of guerrillas in the jungle of Cuba, and implements them in a piece that explores the life of resistance fighters and the horrors they go through in order to hopefully cause a revolution. It doesn't have the same glossy attraction like The Argentine and I kept thinking that these two films are better sold separately. As long as IFC sticks to the rumored plan to release the first film, The Argentine, in theaters this fall, it'll gain plenty of Oscar buzz and give the second one a extra boost before its release later in 2009.
I understand that Soderbergh wants to tell Guevara's very intriguing life story and I can see how he's struggling to edit this because there's so much to tell. Leaving any of it out would be a disservice to Guevara's integrity and I think it's important to keep all of the scenes that define the character so very well. In watching this, I've realized how much of a challenge it is for Soderbergh to juggle this balance and the length and everything. Therefore I really don't have much criticism, or at least don't feel like I should say too much, because both films are undoubtedly very well-made, but they're not exactly films that I'm going to ever call personal favorites or instant classics. I really love Steven Soderbergh and found so much to appreciate in both The Argentine and Guerrilla, even if I didn't love either of them in the end.
After recapping my thoughts, I'll admit that Che is one of those cinematic experiences worth going through once. They're both great films, there's no question about that, I'm just unsure if I'll ever find myself watching either of them again unless I find myself in a Latin America history class. I'm wondering if any other moviegoers out there have had similar thoughts after watching Che or either of the two individual films? And I'm wondering what the mainstream will reaction will be when both of these hit theaters?
Reader Feedback - 27 Comments
Wow, alex got brain washed
Ross on Sep 12, 2008
Yeah, alex, commies aren't cool... Corporate CEOs and corrupt right-wing politicians are cool.
Heroin on Sep 12, 2008
Oh American's and their comments. I'm glad you were able to see the film for what it truly is Alex and I'm glad it's brought some insight on a situation you weren't that clear of. My suggestion, try your best to do some further research etc, some people just don't see the whole picture but rather what CNN projects to them.
Matthew on Sep 12, 2008
I was also at the back-to-back screening, and I think I feel the same way about the films: I liked them, I didn't love them. And I preferred the first film to the second. At times it was a tough slog, but I don't regret the experience. It doesn't have the typical story/character arc going on, which I think would make its appeal less broad, but I enjoyed that aspect of it, it was unique. I must also express my amazement at the cast and crew for cranking out this sprawling (in a good way) piece of work.
Mary on Sep 12, 2008
"once-in-a-lifetime" HAHAHA -- what a tool. And get a better life.
oh,hai on Sep 12, 2008
Good to know it was his love of the country and his people running through his mind as he murdered children and electrocuted homosexuals. I'm looking forward to seeing this movie because I enjoy Del Toro and I enjoy Soderburgh and its a great concept but lets not be coy, Che was not a nice man. His homophobia is widely documented as are multiple incidents in which he tortured and murdered not just enemies but innocents. Also "He's not a frickin' communist!" may be the most unintentionally hilarious thing you've said. In your review you talk about his Marxist views. What are Marxist views if not communism?
Guy on Sep 12, 2008
@6... How can you be so cynical towards Alex's life? When was the last time you were at the Toronto International Film Fest with a press pass interviewing some of the finest film makers in the world? You obviously don't have the same passion for film as Alex, or you'd be jealous of his Che' experience. Why don't you go watch mtv news for your blockbuster film updates and let Alex cover the art of film making without your useless comments...
peloquin on Sep 12, 2008
8 is totally right Can't wait to see these films Alex
David R on Sep 12, 2008
@8 I read Alex's writing and it shows that he's got almost no critical eye for anything. He gets excited for all the movies -- including big mtv news summer blockbusters. They're all amazing to him.
oh,hai on Sep 12, 2008
Looking forward forward to see these films, I'm glad to hear The Argentine was good because I was skeptical about that portion of the movie. I like the way Alex pointed out why a lot of people 'idolize' this guy. It's not about what he believed in but his dedication and doing what he believed was right and seeing it to the absolute end. I always try to tell people if he was on our side, fighting on the american side, he'd be a national hero. He imprisoned and murdered innocent people because he believed to be guilty of whatever crime came to his mind. And I do sympathize with the families of those persons he killed. But are we not doing the samething on the very same island, Guantanamo ring a bell. I don't know, I believe people shouldn't be quick to judge but that's never gonna happen. Just my little BS 2 cents.
CDZ on Sep 12, 2008
If you check a another thread Alex explains that he would rather write about the movies he likes than to waste time on the ones he didn't, which is better because we all know Disaster Movie isn't 10/10.
Buttons on Sep 12, 2008
Alright anyone who bashes Che and mocks the experience of watching a movie on his life is an idiot. These are the same type of people who flat out refused to watch Brokeback Mountain, because of subject matter. Go and rewatch Superbad or The Marine. I am insanely jealous of Alex and I look forward to seeing a movie about Che because he was one of the most influential people of the past century.
Kyle A. Koyote on Sep 13, 2008
I don't consider myself an "idiot" but have no intention of watching a glorification of a murderous thug by the well intentioned but woefully naive Benicio Del Toro. Most of my Canadian brothers and sisters have always been fans of Castro and his posse, so it is no surprise that Soderbergh et al are defended on this site and by this critic. But I was in Cuba when Che ordered and gleefully supervised the assassination of people declared guilty without a trial, as well as when he put people in jail, under gruesome conditions, because their opinions differed from the prevailing revolutionary doctrine. You can glorify el Che all you want, but the real idiots are the uninformed masses who wear tee shirts with his image or put his poster on their walls in total ignorance of what this man really was. Among other things, he was someone who would not allow you to express your opinions freely on a message board.
Mabel Gonzalez on Sep 13, 2008
What the hell does brokeback mountain have to do with any of this? And this is not even about the movie, it sure is a great piece of film with such a good director and actor, and Benicio does look great as Che. Is just that, somehow, i doubt this: "The two films are a meticulously intimate portrait of Guevara " or this "Leaving any of it out would be a disservice to Guevara's integrity and I think it's important to keep all of the scenes that define the character so very well." since Alex hasn't really talked about any of the negative aspects of Che's life appearing on any of the two movies. Sure, the guy had some great ideals, he loved his country...but is that all we care about now, ideals? What about the actions? He did save lots of people, but he killed tons too. He saw himself as being the guy with the unrefutable truth and anyone who didn't have the same opinion was rubish and unfaithful to the country. He believed "the end justifies the means", and, in a world like ours, that's like the worst ideal one could have. To him,his little "revolucion" was more important than lifes of human beings, guilty or not (not that he could distinguish the two, since they weren't alowed the chance to go to court, were they!?) In my country, Portugal, we endend a dictatorship with flowers on the rifles, something i'm very proud of (although i wasn't born yet. It was back in 1874), the men in front of the revolution (call it what you want) just didn't think it was necessary to start shooting at the opposite site. And the voice of the people was heard. And, i'm just curious, are you, guevara's supporters, fond of Fidel? Do you agree with the ideal "the end justifies the means"? And you do know, Che Guevara was an enemy of the USA, right? And, just so we're clear: Alex seems to be a great guy, he knows a lot about film and everything related, this as nothing to do with him. I don't get the point of criticizing him. Although I don't agree with the way he talked about the movie content or the way he seems to see Che, but everyone's intitled to their opinions. I don't watch CNN. I don't agree with the American politics
Ricardo on Sep 13, 2008
I don't see how liking or agreeing with Che Guevara has anything to do with appreciating the film. Whether you think he was a communist thug or a glorious revolutionary, the film, from what I hear, is a relatively unbiased account of his life, which was undeniably extraordinary. To write it off as being leftist propaganda or some sort of naive idolization is foolish. I for one am very interested in seeing the film, and making up my own mind about it. The controversial nature of the main character is what makes the prospect of this film so interesting.
Kelly on Sep 13, 2008
How can this film be called an objective exposition of this icon''s life when the director explicitly excluded La Cabana executions? Independent of what you think about or know about Che, he was a complex and important historical figure whose influence is still felt, albeit in a more commercialized less intellectual manner. If the director explored the contradictions between this revolutionary's idealized goals and his at times barbaric means, and thoughts, it would have made for a more intense cinematic experience if also a more a historical account. Understanding those contradictions would have been worth the four hours instead of this art house Neiman Marxist release. "To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary...These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of the The Wall! (El Paredón)" --Ernesto 'Che' Guevara
cubanazo on Sep 14, 2008
I personally don't know much about Che other then the fact that many people found him influential and he was a communist. That's why I'm very excited to see the film because I know it will be well made and well acted and if I don't agree with how Che was portrayed after learning about who he really was then I know I will have at least seen something worthwhile. I like Alex love film and sometimes like movies for very specific reasons, like the cinematography/lighting/sound or maybe there were one or two shots that were very unique. It also seems that the film attempted to leave judgments up to the audience from what I heard. And also people may seem the film solely because they will say to themselves, "Hey that's the guy from that shirt I have." And that is all for the better. I mean all of South American history people really get in America is fighting over the Western U.S., the Cuban missile crisis a little bit and the Panama Canal, (excluding the conquistadors and colonization) I thank Alex for keeping things cinematic and very much respect the additions on the reality of Che. I'm sure no one would have a dispute over how nice Stalin or Hitler were although it is still interesting to learn about them nonetheless and see how these men differed or at which point they turned. Much like Ho Chi Minh when he desired to emulate the U.S. and be more of a democracy before we ignored him completely. In the end this is just a movie and I trust not an attempt to create any political propaganda of any sort. And @ 7 Communism and Marxism are not the same things. Communism is more of a perversion and exploitation of Marxism without getting much into anything specific.
Anthony on Sep 15, 2008
@19, myself, I'm sorry I also meant to clarify that for the most part if it's Spanish it is South America for most Americans so that's why I lumped in fighting with Mexico over the western U.S. as South American history.
Anthony on Sep 15, 2008
I hope you who reject the possibility of seeing "The Argentine/Che" and who read this posting consider the significance of perspective that considers not time, nationality, race, or politics. But only the human condition. How many of you who will not see this film have watched or love Mel Gibson's Braveheart? How much difference is there between the two of them? Would any of you have watched Braveheart if William Wallace were a revolutionary in a modern age? What if the United States were his enemy? A revolutionary hates injustice, and that is the single force that drives him to act, to push for freedom for his people. War does not leave time to consider peace, and that is why it is war. Che was as much a hypocrite as everyone else. That's why we can identify with him. That's why he is remembered. Because he was human enough to act, to fight, and to die trying.
G.S. on Sep 15, 2008
Is blowing up innocent Iraqi children any worse then what he did? Democracies can be just as cruel as communists.
John Knox on Sep 16, 2008
@21 "A revolutionary hates injustice, and that is the single force that drives him to act, to push for freedom for his people." or a revolutionary is power hungry and is motivated by purely selfish reasons.
John Knox on Sep 16, 2008
I don't know if i should see this film or not. My father was a revolutionary in Cuba and this just hits too close to home. I don't trust film makers to be unbiased, to them it is just a story they read somewhere and thought it would be cool to make a movie about it, but to me its part of my history. I dont think i trust Hollywood to tell these stories... if i see it when it comes out, ill post again. Not sure... not sure what to do...
Liz on Sep 27, 2008
"Che's life is an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom. We will always honor his memory." --- Nelson Mandela “Che is not only an intellectual, he was the most complete human being of our time – our era’s most perfect man.” --- Jean Paul Sartre
Viva Che ! on Oct 12, 2008
"At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force." --- Che Guevara Hasta la Victoria Siempre !
Che = Hero on Oct 12, 2008
#7 wrote: "What are Marxist views if not communism?" Well, just Marxist views. Communism as we know it today (or actually knew it a few decades ago) is invented by Lenin, Stalin, Mao.. guys who gave their own twist to Marx' philosophies. Interesting stuff actually.
hj on Dec 17, 2008
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