Che without Cliche
Among all the stale mainstream formulas, is there a genre that is more played out and riddled with tired conventions than the biopic? From Amadeus to Ray, the mind-numbingly schematic checking-off of familiar beats -- inspiration, discovery, rise, disappointment, and meltdown -- somehow offer appallingly little to differentiate the diverse lives on display. With his two-part epic about the iconic revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Steven Soderbergh circumvents the genre's pitfalls: his Che is free of cliche and achieves a degree of emphatic insight and sharp characterization that deserves to be called revolutionary.
Like Walter Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries
, which chronicled his first youthful adventure, Che
doesn't attempt to tackle the Argentine doctor's intensely cinematic life as a whole. Neatly dividing the film into two stylistically distinct parts, Soderbergh concentrates on two periods instead. Part I, The Argentine
, details Che's rise as a revolutionary from his first meeting with Fidel Castro in Mexico City to the decisive Battle of Santa Clara, interspersed with black-and-white flash-forwards to his 1964 visit to New York. Shot in vivid wide-screen cinematography and set to a moving score by Alberto Iglesias, The Argentine
finds a comfortable space between revolutionary procedural and old-fashioned CinemaScope combat adventure.
Soderbergh skips Che's years in Castro's government and his time in the Congo and instead devotes Part II, The Guerrilla, to the doomed attempt to repeat the success of the Cuban campaign in Bolivia in 1966/67. The Guerrilla has been said to "border on a horror film," and the characterization is apt. The colors are murkier, the format is more mundane, the camera hand-held, and the mood ranges from subdued worry to all-out despair. Each film stands alone (and IFC Films plans to release them separately after brief "roadshow" engagements), but it is not until their similarities and differences start knocking against each other that sparks begin to fly and Che unfolds its full power.