By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2008--CHE  Send This Review to a Friend

A highlight of the 2008 New York Film Festival has been “Che,” the two-part adventurous epic director Steven Soderbergh has made about the life and battles of the revolutionary leader Che Guevara. It is unusual terrain for Soderbergh, who collaborated with screenwriter Peter Buchman on Part 1, based on Guevara’s “Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolution," and with a Part 2 screenplay by both Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen, based on Guevara’s “The Bolivian Diary.”

The first part—each part is 131 minutes long—is a fascinating chronicle of how the Cuban revolution was built, from recruiting villagers to the final triumph. It is in effect a road map to the means by which revolutionaries, step by step, can win over the populace and forge a dedicated army. The concentration is on Che rather than Castro, and the film gains immeasurably from the superb performance by Benicio del Toro as Che, who is both glorified and shown in personal terms.

The second part is a chronicle of defeat, demonstrating the lack of success of the attempt at revolution in Bolivia promoted by Che, and the reasons why it failed. In this portion, the government forces clamp down effectively until Che is captured and slain. Defeat is the stuff of legends as well as victory is, and “Che” gives us an overview as well as a myriad of fascinating detail. The supporting cast is convincing in both the Cuba and Bolivia parts and the cinematography by Peter Andrews is consistently impressive.

Of course, not everyone will have the patience for surveying this sprawling portrait, but for anyone interested in the history and why one revolution works and another doesn’t, as well as in the emotional story spotlighting the charismatic figure, this is an impressive achievement well worth attention.

  

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