Favorite

Unmotivated 

‘Che: Part I’ won’t help you understand Che the man.

'CHE': Benicio Del Toro stars.
  • 'CHE': Benicio Del Toro stars.

While I've never been a big fan of folks who wear their politics on their dorm room wall, I can see the appeal of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. God, just look at the guy. In that most famous photograph — the snap that became the poster that helped 10 million socially awkward, black-turtleneck-wearing college kids hook up — Che looks like a face chipped into a mountainside, a cross between Thomas Jefferson and a Latino Jesus. He doesn't have to say a word. All he has to do is give the capitalist pigs that million-yard stare and they wither before him.

A figure that looms so large as a symbol is always a minefield for an artist seeking to capture his essence. Here's the truth of films about historical figures: What looks good carved in granite rarely looks good on film. The latest attempt at capturing Guevara's soul is director Steven Soderbergh's “Che: Part I,” playing now at Market Street Cinema. At times beautiful, aloof, riveting and dull, it's a film that bears watching, if only because it is one more brick in the wall of Che. Even if the realization we come to in the end is that a man so thoroughly made a saint can't possibly be understood, it needs to be seen.

The film picks up the story of Guevara (played here well by Benicio Del Toro) during the late 1950s, when Che came to Cuba from his native Argentina to fight with Fidel Castro against the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Periodically, the film toggles from steamy jungle battlefields to an older Che in Manhattan, during his 1964 trip to address the United Nations. Often fighting his asthma as hard as the enemy, Che proves himself to be a great military mind, leading ragtag columns of farmers and young idealists — most of them armed in the beginning with not much more than their family hunting rifles. The parallels to the band of rebels who founded America are hard to miss. Soderbergh is mindful of this, I think, often lingering on the bodies of dead freedom fighters with their rifles still clutched in their hands. Part one of a two-parter, the film follows Guevara through the fall of Batista.

The problem with “Che: Part I” is that it soon becomes clear that Soderbergh was one of those kids who had a Guevara poster hanging on his wall, and that he's still a little hypnotized by that laser beam stare. Though we see Guevara fighting, interacting with Castro and his men, teaching peasants to read, and confronting the U.S.-backed puppets of the Latin world during his speech at the U.N., we never really get to see the real man and why he's willing to die for what he believes. Yes, we hear vague platitudes about Revolution, but no man REALLY goes to war for an idea, does he? What we never get from “Che: Part I” is that divine spark of love — that moment when Che Guevara, a young Argentine medical student with a bright future ahead of him, decided that trying to free the impoverished peoples of Latin America was worth everything: his career, his family, even his life. (If you're looking for a film that shows much more in this regard, check out the lovely 2004 flick “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which chronicles the thousand-mile trip Guevara made across South America as a young med student on his way to work at a leper colony). Given that Che looms so large in the imagination, a little glimpse of the forces — internal and external — that turned the boy into a man and the man toward conflict would have gone a long way. Whatever made Che Guevara into a freedom fighter, you can bet he didn't read it in a book.

The main failing of “Che: Part I” is that Soderbergh starts his film exactly too late, after the Jell-o that is Che's moral indignation and personal determination has set with all the fruit inside. The result is a character we can never quite get close to and never quite understand; a man as distant as a poster on a wall.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • L’Oréal, Halter's Scenic Hill Solar open massive new solar project in NLR.

    Cosmetics maker L’Oréal and Scenic Hill Solar, a Little Rock-based solar energy company started by former Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, cut the ribbon this morning on a massive new power generating solar array in North Little Rock.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • Arkansans you should know

    Who have moved outside the state.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • Cotton talks Trump's first 100 days at Clinton School

    Appearing with Clinton School for Public Service Dean Skip Rutherford, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton spoke today at a Clinton School event focused on Cotton's assessment of Donald Trump's First 100 days in office. While there were some moments of applause and isolated jeering, the event was much less raucous than the town hall meetings Cotton has been attending of late, though Rutherford's questions pulled no punches in questioning Trump's temperament and agenda.
    • Apr 19, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Not much to 'Love'

    In Judd Apatow's new Netflix original series.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Executionpalooza

    Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate.
  • Art bull

    "God, I hate art," my late friend The Doctor used to say.
  • Not justice

    The strongest, most enduring calls for the death penalty come from those who feel deeply the moral righteousness of "eye-for-an-eye" justice, or retribution. From the depths of pain and the heights of moral offense comes the cry, "The suffering you cause is the suffering you shall receive!" From the true moral insight that punishment should fit the crime, cool logic concludes, "Killers should be killed." Yet I say: retribution yes; death penalty no.
  • Judge Griffen writes about morality, Christian values and executions

    Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who blogs at Justice is a verb!, sends along a new post this morning.
  • The Ledell Lee execution thread

    Arkansas Times contributor Jacob Rosenberg is at the Cummins Unit in Grady filing dispatches tonight in advance of the expected execution of Ledell Lee, who was sentenced to death for the Feb. 9, 1993, murder of Debra Reese, 26, who was beaten to death in the bedroom of her home in Jacksonville.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Visit Arkansas

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation