Saturday, January 9, 2010

CHE: PART ONE

Benicio Del Toro, Julia Ormond, Rodrigo Santoro, Demian Bichir


The world has glorified Che Guevara as an icon of revolution through the years. But it is important to know what he truly represented and to understand the why, where, when and how his struggle against US imperialism (in Latin America and beyond) began. This biopic directed by Steven Soderbergh aims to explore and expose the man behind the armed revolution. It was divided into two full length movies, each lasting more than 2 hours.

Part one documents his early years as a Argentinian doctor who was 'recruited' by Castro and he joins him in his fight against the US backed Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista. The film unfolds through various sequences which tend to skip back and forth in a non linear manner. Mainly Che is interviewed by a US reporter while he is on a visit to make a fiery speech at the United Nations. It is also interspersed with scenes to his first encounter with Castro as well as the 'jungle' shots of the armed struggle with other freedom fighters in the woods of Cuba. It is filmed in monochrome as well as technicolor and most of the dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles.

The solid plot is a raw detailed account of those days when we see Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro) as a man filled with a genuine passion to help the Cubans overthrow a dictator who has a controlling grip on the populace. While deep inside, Che aims to get rid of the imperialistic rule of the US over Latin America. He is portrayed as a powerful commandant of his troops yet at the same time he prefers recruiting men who already know how to read and write. If not, he assigns someone to teach the illiterates even when they are living under harsh conditions in the unforgiving jungle. Many recruits are drawn to the struggle as his reputation grows among the underground movement. He is revered and feared at the same time. His moral character makes him of one of Fidel Castro's most trusted allies even though he is clearly conceived as an outsider being an Argentine.

The multiple cast consists of a mix of Latin actors with the Puerto Rico born Benicio Del Toro in the main role. His performance as the passionate revolutionary is quite intense yet subtle at the same time. He doesn't overact nor raise his voice yet registers powerfully on screen. Even as the clean cut Che starts to appear gruff from months in the forested area of Cuba, Del Toro doesn't lose focus. In fact, it is the bearded Che which draws tremendous appeal and suddenly you lose sight of Del Toro the actor and see him as Che Guevara. Del Toro was able to provide more valuable insights about the Argentine doctor not only as a freedom fighter but as a person with idealistic views. But very little information is provided about his family life as most of part one unfolds in the thickly forested environment.

An intelligently made biopic of an iconic figure whose story can draw parallels with other celebrated public personalities in history. Yet behind the cause celebre lurks the ugly truth behind his lofty ambitions so we must not be merely swayed by the media hype. I suggest and recommend you watch this film to better understand the man whose bearded face in t-shirts has generated brisk business for merchants, worldwide.

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