Mar 11 2009

Che: Why not make a nice movie lionizing Lenin?

Category: mediaharmonicminer @ 9:37 am

The New Che, Same as the Old

Most of what you’ve heard about Steven Soderbergh’s Che is true. At four and a half hours, the film, now playing in selected domestic markets and available on video on demand, is extremely long. And even at this length, the film skips over the least convenient, indeed morally repulsive, period of Ernesto Guevara’s life. It’s a testament to Soderbergh’s skill that the film still has some merit—above all, the director’s typically meticulous composition and audacious experiments with form—but it falls abjectly short of accuracy.

…….Soderbergh presents Che as an unabashedly ideological revolutionary who rejects any path for change aside from violent struggle. For the most part, the film focuses on his two periods of most intense guerrilla activity, in Cuba and then in Bolivia—revolutions to the death in each case. A fellow moviegoer observed afterward that she no longer thought of Guevara as “cuddly.” That’s a start.

Yet for Soderbergh, this violent Guevara remains a sympathetic figure. Such admiration may have motivated the director’s omission of the years that Guevara spent after the revolution in Castro’s Cuba, supervising executions, establishing the state police, and helping build an authoritarian state—unpleasant activities that the Che T-shirt crowd would rather not examine. It’s a politically convenient choice, to be sure, but given the film’s emphasis on Guevara’s guerrilla career, perhaps it makes some artistic sense. A few flashbacks intervene, but for the most part the film concerns itself with combat and survival in the Cuban and Bolivian countryside. This close attention to the practicalities of guerrilla warfare binds together what might have been two tonally incoherent episodes—in two different countries and separated by nine years. Showing Guevara’s comparatively humdrum years in Castro Cuba—where he killed from behind a desk instead of from behind a rifle—might have enervated the film’s narrative energy.

Hollywood continues the whitewash, with just enough truth to claim objectivity, but not enough to provide real understanding of the murderer.

No surprise there, of course, since few of us want to understand murderers, and since telling the truth tends to make for difficult to watch story lines.

I’m still waiting for Hollywood to make a nice movie to “humanize” Lenin, or Stalin, or maybe Hitler.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.  Probably win some Oscars.


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