Laura CliffordMost of the world is familiar with revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara from the millions of t-shirts displaying his bereted image. Helmer Steven Soderbergh tells of the beginnings of this cultural icon with his two-part, four-hour duet of films that begins with “Che: Part One - The Argentine.”
Using a non-linear technique, Soderbergh begins this true-life tale with a 1964 interview with Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro) in Havana. The story flashes back to March of 1952 when dictator Fulgencio Batista seized power in Cuba. Flash forward to 1955 with Che and his fellow revolutionaries holding an anti-Batista meeting in Mexico City where the conspirators plot the overthrow of the repressive regime and return the power to the Cuban people. The filmmaker uses this flash back and forth technique throughout “Che: Part One - The Argentine” to show the titular character’s rise to prominence, culminating in his 1964 speech before the United Nations assembly.
The first installment of the Che saga is both a geography lesson about Cuba and a history of events that culminated in the overthrow of the Batista regime and the rise of another dictator, Fidel Castro. As such, “Che: Part One” is a solid docudrama that convincingly tells both the development of a revolutionary and the story of the struggle for Cuban independence. This is done effectively with the frequent flashes through the years from Guevara’s early recruitment to his appearance at the UN.
Benicio Del Toro immerses himself in the role of Che, building the character without the use of histrionics to convey the rebel’s intelligence, kindness and ruthlessness. Che, the doctor, treats the sick in the villages liberated by the revolution. Che, the rebel leader, is willing to take life to maintain the forward movement of the revolt. Del Toro gives solid shrift to both sides of the man. Supporting cast fills the bill, giving convincing performances that bolster the film.
Soderbergh uses the script, by Peter Buchman (adapting Guevara’s memoir, Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War), and his own artistic camerawork to give the film an appropriate documentary feel, much like “Traffic.” With “Che: Part One,” the director succeeds in telling the little known beginnings of a man who, in just a few years, rose to international prominence. The film looks good, period-wise, and feels true to fact. I give it a B.
Laura comments upon Part One in her review of Part Two. B+
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