Saturday, March 14, 2009

Che - Part Two

‘Che – Part Two’ is at the same time more immediate and less satisfying that its predecessor.

More immediate because it’s free of the self-consciously arty black-and-white New York City sequences that interrupt the flow of part one; because the pursuit of Guevara and his small band of Bolivian freedom fighters by a remorseless military gives the film a constant senses of movement, as well as imbuing every frame with threat and tension.

Less satisfying for mostly the same reasons.

As with the first film, it’s not a biopic – it’s a treatise on the logistics of organising a revolution. As such, it feels very much like a variation on a theme. The main differences are geographical (Bolivia instead of Cuba) and historical (the ’60s, not the ’50s; Guevara is an older man) – but the principal different is the outcome.

The Cuban revolution was successful. Guevara’s Bolivian campaign was a failure.

Abandoning the political stage, a heavily disguised Guevara (Benicio del Toro in even more impressive form than part one) fetches up in Bolivia. With no supplies and with none of the manpower he had as Castro’s right hand man, he attempts to transform a painfully small and disorganised group into guerrilla fighters. Everything is against him: his health worsens (the asthma attacks he suffered before have become more severe, more debilitating); his men are undisciplined and infighting abounds; food is hard to come by; the peasants they are fighting to protect betray them under bribery and threats from the Bolivian army; American involvement exacerbates things.

The two films are yin and yang. Opposites but mirror images. Part one is the rise of Che Guevara. Part two is his fall. Part one is about the planning and coming together of a revolution. Part two is about disintegration. Part one ends in triumph, part two in failure.

Part one works as a stand-alone film. Part two doesn’t. It needs the events of the first instalment for context, otherwise it would be too fragmentary, too downbeat; the sucker punch of the ending wouldn’t resonate half as effectively.

When I wrote about ‘Che – Part One’, I was disappointed that I hadn’t had the opportunity to see the four and half hour roadshow version. I’m glad now that that was the case. The similarities would have been too pronounced.

So would the differences.

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