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Courtesy of IFC Films

Che: Part Two

Biopic offers many rewards but leaves out several fascinating chapters of revolutionary's life

By Drew Halfnight

Che: Part Two
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

The second instalment of Steven Soderbergh’s biopic Che covers the twilight period of the Argentine’s career as a revolutionary, which he spent in Bolivia trying to rally peasants and communists to take up arms against the government of General René Barrientos.

Like Che: Part One, which depicts the Cuban Revolution, this film takes a practical, boot-level look at the business of confronting imperialism. Almost the whole movie takes place in the dry montane forests of Bolivia, where Che’s band of international guerrilleros becomes lost, runs out of supplies, fails to galvanize the locals and finally succumbs to a Bolivian army that, unbeknownst to them, is stacked with elite U.S.-trained counter-insurgents.

Indeed, if the first part depicts the rise and triumph of Marxism in Latin America, then the second half showcases its catastrophic failure.

But the tragic aspects of the Bolivian campaign — the colossal global interests arrayed against Che, not to mention his own colossal arrogance — are understated in the film, perhaps to save the icon from the pity or gloating of a partisan viewership. We do not look on and shed tears as the stars align against Guevara. Nor do we sigh knowingly when Guevara’s cause appears to unravel and come to naught. Instead, we stick by him, even when he orders his men to steal food from peasants and stabs his horse while in the throes of a prolonged asthma attack. When he is tethered, shoeless and awaiting execution, we still sense the majesty and supremacy of his convictions.

Che: Part Two offers other rewards, including a series of dramatic, wonderfully shot scenes toward the end, as the guerrillas are hunted down and killed or captured. The exit music by Mercedes Sosa is perfect, and the closing shots of Che on a Cuba-bound boat are a touch of oblique beauty.

After watching the first instalment, one begins to wonder why the second part was made. We already possess one good film about Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). A second movie that covers a different period of his life, sure, but a four-hour epic that leaves out several of the most fascinating chapters of Che’s story, including years spent as a high-level functionary in revolutionary Cuba, a globetrotting advocate for armed revolt and a guerrilla leader in the Congo?

Soderbergh clearly wanted to make an epic that measured up to Guevara’s legacy and said something new about him. Instead, in Che: Part Two anyway, we glimpse a well-shot, well-acted vanity project that tells us relatively little about the man.

Author's photo
Drew Halfnight is a father, journalist and high school teacher in Toronto.
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