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Che: Part Two

Che Part Two

Review by Michael Edwards

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

FOLLOWING on from Che Part One, the second half of Steven Soderbergh’s Che Guevara biography is based on the revolutionary’s Bolivia Diaries and chronicles the final year in his life.

The film introduces itself with some short text informing us that Che disappeared from Cuba not long after the successful coup. But rather than giving us a lightening summary of his mysterious and various activities across Africa and South America, this film gives a far more straightforward story of his attempt to foment revolution in Bolivia.

By focusing on this single campaign Part Two avoids the fragmented feel of the previous installment, instead presenting the Bolivia campaign as a representative slice of an ongoing revolutionary campaign that is both unnecessary and unproductive. This, in turn, forms part of the project’s presentation of Che as a relentless guerrilla whose faith in his goal and tactics was unwavering.

In dropping some of those cuts back and forth through time and space this film becomes a far less active and exciting experience. With the guerrillas battling against desperate conditions and national prejudices in Bolivia there is a pervading sense of hopelessness that gradually overwhelms through seemingly endless scenes of trial and tribulation.

Thus, much more than Part One, this is a testament to the endurance and self-belief of freedom fighters. It is an indictment of those who do nothing to achieve what they believe in, and it is a tragic tale of the downfall of a hero.

There are no glorious battle scenes, just desperate skirmishes and Che’s motivational and disciplinary speeches, though undiminished in skill or intensity, serve merely to hold together a crumbling force. This being the case, the gritty and close documentary format becomes all the more potent in expressing the difficulty of the revolutionary struggle.

Benicio Del Toro retains his gravitas as Che, if anything exhibiting even greater skill at conveying the subtle nuances of the difficult situation faced by the great man. Exhibiting patience and ingenuity, not to mention courage and stoicism, against such odds is no easy thing to get across, so to portray it as effectively as Del Toro does is a remarkable achievement. So adept is the performance that Che’s final moments cannot help but elicit an overwhelming sense of loss.

Despite lacking the excitement and visual vitality of Part One, Part Two succeeds in a couple of very interesting tasks. Firstly, it really gets under the skin of the man behind the mythology by showing him tested to his absolute limits. Secondly, it paints a bleak and painfully grim picture of what it means to be a revolutionary that defies conventional depictions.

As a whole, the Che epics are outstanding. Loving panoramas of South America are punctuated with superbly staged battles and beautifully shot documentary-style scenes of Che Guevara that display a borderline obsessive desire to show every detail of how he operated a guerrilla movement.

It misses out some important and intriguing parts of revolution, including the transition of the Castro regime to a dictatorship, but more than anything this is a portrait of a man that challenges the audience to understand how he became an icon, and it’s a look at revolution and activism rather than a political epic.

But with that in mind, as stand-alone films, the first part is far more engaging than the second. Part Two is an intriguing look at failed revolution, and a beautiful charting of the decline of Che Guevara, but it is a lot slower and lacks the edge that made Part One shine.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 130mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 29, 2009