Thursday, January 29, 2009

All Things Passive, Yet Aggressive

Found this site randomly - It is a growing tribute to passive-aggressive notes... delightful.

Proper blog post to follow soon, I promise.

Friday, January 02, 2009


Yesterday, I sat through Steven Soderbergh's Ché - the epic re-telling of two episodes from the life of Ernesto "Ché" Guevara. I'm somewhat sorry to say, as a self-professed Fidelista and an avid-follower of all things Cuban, that this film will almost certainly be doomed to obscurity and will likely be panned by the mainstream media... and somewhat understandably so.

For it's general release the film will be divided into two parts. The first part, "The Argentine" follows Guevara's part in the guerrilla war in Cuba. The second part, "Guerrilla", follows his leadership of the ill-fated revolution in Bolivia which eventually lead to his capture and execution. Enthusiastic to see this take on one of the most iconic individuals of the 20th century, I braved the four-hour version comprising of both films on the anniversary on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Cuba.

Benicio Del Torres is brilliant in the lead roll and the likeness to Guevara is impress but we learn little of the man from this movie save for that he was a man of unquestionable and unwavering ethics and values. He is stoic and noble at all times no matter what is going on and even in the midst of his asthma attacks commands the unquestioning respect of his men. Dealing with his asthma is perhaps the one interesting insight we get to the man and even then he battles to show no weakness - at no point do we see a particularly human side. 

We are also treated to his dealings with his friends in the first movie which makes it a lot more bearable than the second. His dealings with Fidel, Camilo Cienfuego and others at least give him someone to play off but in the second half no other characters emerge that are of any real interest. This really makes the second part a lot more tedious than the first and knowing how it is going to end, the only question you ask yourself is how much worse can things get before he is captured and shot. Even when this does happen, it isn't particularly dramatic or treated very interestingly and it's more with a sense of relief that you leave the cinema.

The film is shot in HD in a documentary style and the few times there is any action the camera goes all shakey and you have no real sense of what's going on (truly groundbreaking stuff there). I've seen this type of style used to great effect particularly in dealing with the depiction of historical events but all it just doesn't work this time. Whereas in other films I've seen this style makes you feel as you are just peering over someones shoulder as this unfolds before you, as if you were really there. It just becomes frustrating watching these guerillas trek through the jungle followed by some idiot with a camera only for when some piece of action to happen the cretin with the camera falls over. We have no sense of really being there and are left wondering "why is this half-wit filming this from such a poor angle?"

By the by, if the last few paragraphs contained any spoilers for you, then this movie really isn't for you. This leads us to one of it's major flaws - that at once it requires a significant amount of prior knowledge of the life of Ché Guevara but at the same time if you do possess that knowledge it gives you nothing new. While many bio-pics are criticised for historical inaccuracies or the director taking licence with the facts or supposing too much about the historical fugures he is depicting - I'm imagining making Michael Collins being an action hero, for example - this is the very opposite end of the scale. The movie style is hyper-realist it seems as if nothing was put in the movie without it having been described in Guevara's own journal or some other document, the is no interpretation of the facts or for that matter any real emotional content, we are just shown what happens. 

Considering all the fascinating and thought provoking aspects of the Cuban revolution and of all the astounding events through which the life of Ernesto Guevara took him, Soderbergh has chosen to make a film about the mundane and difficult life of a guerilla rather than trying to say anything about his life. Guevera literally wrote the book on guerilla warfare and there is probably more insight to be gained from that publication than this film. If this is an examination of those principles expressed in that book there is nothing to really to imply that at all during the movie and that would only be an effort to hang something on what is a failed piece of film making. Anyway, we see those principles as a glorious success in part one and an abject failure in part two.

If you are to see one of these films see the first one. This is a more interesting chapter of the man's life and with more interesting characters surrounding him and there is some degree of film-making deployed in inter-lacing this trying time with Guevera's address to the UN. The second film, is a mirror-image of the events of the film going completely wrong and seems to barely look away for a second from the downward slog towards his umtimely death. 

So for those who have read histories of Guevara's life we are given an accurate but somewhat cold version of something we have already read and for those who have only a passing interest in the man, they might as well be getting one of the t-shirts with that print on it for all the insight we get into his persona. 

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