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magbana Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-08-08 10:42 PM
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Granma's Review of "Che"
December 5, 2008

Steven Soderbergh's Che Guevara


Among the films that most interest filmgoers at Havanas New Latin American Cinema Festival is The Argentine and The Guerrilla, centered on the figure of Ernesto Che Guevara. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the two films were scheduled to be premiered over the weekend. A first rapprochement to this over four-hour ambitious story allows us to speak about a respectful approach to such a legendary figure, without leaving out the controversies both in terms of the treatment of certain historical contents and its aesthetic connotations.

When we watch The Argentine and The Guerrilla, the first thing that comes to mind, especially with respect to the first one, is the kind of audience it will have, because, if movie goers overseas and less seasoned in Cuban history can find credibility and authenticity, both in the development of characters and in the performance of actors, someone who has grown up in these lands detects the false tone of some recreations, or the histrionic imitation trying to make up for a real complex character.

Allow me to cite two examples, among many: the image of late Cuban leader Camilo Cienfuegos. The actor has a startling resemblance with him but he is conceived in the script in such an oversimplified way that he seems to be a comedian from a fair. The Fidel Castro interpreted by Demian Bechir, whose work has been praised, depicts the gestures that became an iconographic collection of the first years of the Revolution, but dont go beyond an exact replica; he lacks charisma and depth.

At this point of evolving aesthetics, in which very few people would think of demanding absolute fidelity between historical facts and their artistic transposition, the aforementioned aspect cant stop being risky in a story that takes place on the most faithful tracks of realism. In its first part it displays an efficient style of documentary narration, in black and white, making reference to Ches visit to the United Nations and the interview he gave a US journalist, all of which lends itself to set out, from the astuteness of his thinking, the ideological his convictions.

The first part, shot after the second one, has a linear structure made up by a series of historical facts the journey of the Granma yacht, the battles in the Sierra Maestra mountains, the treatment given to traitors, the new forces joining the guerrillas, the battle of Santa Clara, which is imposed as a mere graphic reconstruction of something already known. And between episodes of combat and historical characters that dont convince due to their lack of depth on the script, the filmmakers barely approach the decisive factor in movies of this type: emotion.

The Argentine lacks dramatic writing, and not precisely because it avoids seeking the "exact" nature of facts, but rather because every now and then the director gives the impression of losing his way amid so much abundance of material and characters.

We must applaud Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro, the actor that efficiently manages to make the public get closer to a flesh and blood hero of high spiritual stature and for accepting the challenge of taking this story to the screen, taking into account that Che Guevara is one of the most loved and at the same time hated figures in the history of humankind, and theres no need to underline the ideological and social differences of those both sides.

The purpose of the two artists has been, undoubtedly, to reflect a man that has become a legend without turning the story theyre telling into a myth. If we talk about results, I wouldnt hesitate to affirm that in spite of its defects, these two films are more positive than negative in an international framework in which Che Guevaras figure is the object of the most dissimilar manipulations.

We all know what the figure of Che Guevara has been in the hands of the Hollywood, which in no way should be interpreted as a consolation of what is now admissible (Soderberghs Che Guevara) compared to the garbage made before. Cuban cinematography will have to assume, at some point, its own challenge of telling these stories with their most authentic nuances and not exempt from controversy.

If in the first part of this long movie theres a deficient artistic making, in the second, The Guerrilla, we can appreciate that Soderbergh has grown up as a storyteller, in command of a visual density of higher caliber. However, for those who have read Ches diary and other documents about those days in Bolivia the same question comes to surface: why the producers preferred to highlight less important events over others that were more significant, or changed the names and attitudes of some of the guerrillas.

And, on this point, the critic stopped writing to knock on the door of the Center for Che Guevara Studies, an entity that since the beginning of Soderberghs project was in contact with the director and put in his hands the most varied documents and the historical advise he needed, both in terms of theory and facts. This was hard work that, according to the Center executives, never questioned the logical changes historical facts could have on the screen, but yes, seeing to it that their essence was not distorted.

Hence the Center which helped to correct mistakes on the first drafts and threw light over several confused aspects, has some reservations and dissatisfactions with respect to the finished work, among them just to mention one the lightweight treatment given to the character of Tania la guerrilla.

All these aspects should be taken into account at the time of watching Soderberghs Che Guevara on the Havana big screens.
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Judi Lynn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-09-08 05:23 AM
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1. Betancourt's view of this work is more thoughtful than anything I've seen from corporate media.
Here's what was published by the International Herald Tribune, which is owned by the New York Times:
Steven Soderbergh's 'Che': Revolutionary glamour
By Terrence Rafferty Published: December 7, 2008

Revolutionaries in Steven Soderbergh's "Che." The film is set in Cuba, where Che
Guevara helped Castro to overthrow Batista, and in Bolivia. (Laura Magruder/IFC
Films )

"We only won the war," Commandante Ernesto Guevara says a couple of hours into the movie that bears his memorable nickname, "Che." "The revolution begins now."

Not in this picture, though. Steven Soderbergh's ambitious new film, opening Dec. 12 in the United States and worldwide through February, consists of two parts (each running 131 minutes). The first is set in Cuba, where Guevara helped Fidel Castro overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista in a long guerrilla campaign that ended in December 1958; the second takes place in Bolivia, where Guevara went in 1966 to start a revolution that he hoped would spread throughout Latin America (he was Argentine by birth) and where he died a year later. What's missing in the film is the very revolution whose beginning he has so solemnly announced.

This is odd but somehow not surprising, because movies about revolutions do tend to give pride of place to the fighting and to elide the duller, often grimmer business of actually governing in a revolutionary way. And movie revolutionaries frequently deliver themselves of weighty pronouncements like Guevara's, to which the viewer is expected to nod thoughtfully in agreement.

His revolution-begins-now statement is something he really said, and it was stirring enough to reappear, paraphrased, as the wisdom of an Algerian insurgent in Gillo Pontecorvo's classic 1966 "Battle of Algiers." "It's hard enough to start a revolution, even harder to sustain it, and hardest of all to win it," says one of the more intellectual leaders of the militants in that film. "But it's only afterward, once we've won, that the real difficulties begin."

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