Saturday, 19 September 2009

Revolution Management 101

After missing it during an annoyingly short run at the cinema, we finally caught the second part of Steven Soderbergh's biographical film Che, about the eponymous Argentinian revolutionary. It provides an solid counterpart to "Part 1" (which we saw a couple of months ago), and its contrasting story paints a diptych of revolutionary case studies, the first a tale of success, the second a tale of failure. While "Part 1" shows the rising arc of Guevara's career, culminating in the successful liberation of Cuba, "Part 2" shows the declining phase, ending in his ignominious execution in a cottage in Bolivia.

It's interesting to view the films as commentary on how to, and how not to, run a revolution. In Cuba, the revolutionaries, most of whom are Cuban (though not Guevara), are seen positively and supported by the oppressed population. In Bolivia, by contrast, the revolutionaries, none of whom are Bolivian, are viewed suspiciously by an indigenous population so downtrodden that it seems almost oblivious to its oppression. So while Cuba is ripe for revolution, Bolivia is barren soil for the revolutionaries.

However, as it is basically documenting the inevitable (from our future perspective) decline and loss of Guevara's small band, "Part 2" is a rather sombre affair, for which the end is well-known. That said, it's still compelling to watch. Del Toro's Guevara is still a magnetic, if brooding, presence, and much like "Part 1", the film is more like a documentary than a dramatisation in its presentation of biography. Apparently, Soderbergh was aiming for a film that showed what it was like to hang around with Guevara, and I can see that.

Again, what mostly comes over is Guevara's rather professional attitude to revolution; he's certainly single-minded. But he's also painted as unwaveringly even-handed with his fellow revolutionaries, and respectful of the civilians he encounters, for instance ensuring that they're paid for supplies he and his troops acquire. Although, admittedly, the screenplay is drawn from his own diaries, so might be a tad self-serving. As a result, the Che from this pair of films is a much less romantic, or perhaps less romanticised, figure than the wide-eyed young doctor of The Motorcycle Diaries. But this presentation of an older Guevara is (in my ignorant opinion) probably the more realistic one, and one that may cause less mouth-foaming indignation from his counter-revolutionary enemies.

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