Che Part One: America Fuck Yeah!

Posted: 07/15/2009 in Film Review [Archive], Review

Che Part One is a great movie. It does everything that contemporary film should. I guess that’s the problem. If practically anyone but Steven Soderberg had directed this film, I would probably be rather ecstatic about it. The problem is that I know his capabilities too well to be fooled into thinking that this tremendous achievement is the high watermark of his achievements. It lacks the inventive spirit behind the creative choices made for The Girlfriend Experience or the raw emotional brutality of Traffic. It feels too objective and polished for Soderberg, more his attempt at Kubick than a genuine entry into his body of work.

I suppose it’s only personal preference getting in the way of my enjoyment of the film, but when I go in for a Tim Burton film I expect nothing less than the full force of his idiosyncratic vision, which is perhaps an unfair comparison given that Burton has a very specific visual style, while Soderberg has thus far been more interested in allowing the script to dictate the techniques used whether it’s the gritty shot on video hyperreality of Traffic or the subdued soft focus ambient light of The Girlfriend Experience. Perhaps my consternation is that Che Part One is a film about a revolutionary by a revolutionary filmmaker, and yet somehow is not a revolutionary film.

Everything about the film, even the Post-Tarantino intercut narratives, is familiar to your average American film goer, which has a certain amusing poetic justice to it given that Che Guevara is a formerly incendiary figure from the perspective of American history who today is very little more than a commodity both in the United States and Cuba.

Del Toro’s virtuoso performance will endear itself to audiences, especially the Democrat dominated youth culture eager to embrace any figure who stands in opposition to classical Manifest Destiny America. Guevara is the perfect hero for Post-Bush America; audiences can cheer his battle against oppression and American Imperialism as an exorcism for the lingering guilt of allowing Bush to indulge his disastrous doctrine of pre-emptive warfare with the added bonus of his early death ensuring that the world would never have to face his inevitable transition from revolutionary to dictator. There’s a reason people don’t wear Fidel Castro t-shirts and it has little to do with the good doctor wearing a cooler hat.

The video release also sees American audiences brilliantly prepped for the film in that it closes on it’s eponymous hero at his peak, flush with victory and ready to take on the entire world (which he does literally at the United Nations General Assembly), which mirrors the current arc of President and Pop Icon in Chief Barack Obama. Perhaps the ultimate purpose of Soderberg’s oeuvre is to give Americans the romantic, idealized vision of their own recent history cleverly packaged as a historical drama charting the rise of one of the most enduring political figures of the 20th century. Is the real truth of the matter that politics be damned, Che Guevara is in fact the ultimate American action hero, the President we’ve always dreamed of but haven’t had since Washington?

The 2008 election campaign, when viewed from this perspective, really was an attempt at turning soul grinding machine politics into some kind of mythic struggle of cosmic proportions. Consider how pathetically desperate it is to label a broken, callous old man whose best years ended a generation ago a maverick. Consider the irony of a street artist enthralled and inspired by communist propaganda changing the entire campaign with a piece of artwork informed by the personality politics embraced by tyrants spanning the full depth and breadth of human history. Children in Africa wave banners with Obama’s face on them as a symbol of hope for the future, the perfect recursive image of South American children waving banners of Guevara handed down to them by their grandparents.

We will sit in the hushed silence watching a brash, young Che stand against colonial backed oppression, daring to make enemies of the most powerful nation in the world! America- grown fat and indolent on industry driven imperial conquest- stares at him balefully, unable to recognize the fierce sparkle of it’s own youth in his eye. This is George Washington reborn, revolution at it’s most circular. The hero become the villain, tea stained Indian costume moldering away in the back of it’s closet.

Perhaps this then at last is Soderberg’s genius. He has created for us the vehicle through which we will finally understand how truly American Che Guevara is, how he lived and breathed the mythic bedrock of our republic more truly than any man born on our soil. Che Guevara has achieved ultimate immortality as the Great American Action Hero, dispensing justice and freedom for all with a cigar and a machine gun. Hasta la vista, baby.

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