Friday, December 19, 2008

I hope it does great business, but I was disappointed by Soderbergh's Che

Regardless of my mixed reactions to most of Steven Soderbergh's movies, he is one of a handful of exciting, innovative, experimental (if you can use that word when talking about Hollywood movie makers), well known directors in America - so, for the sake of his career I'd like to see Che - Soderbergh's bio-epic about Ernesto "Che" Guevara - do well at the box office.

But, speaking not as a person connected to the filmmaking world but purely as an audience member who is interested in history, world events, and the Cuban Revolution, I was disappointed by Che. Che is an entertaining movie about the rise & fall of a warrior - I enjoyed watching it. But the movie has very little - besides costumes and locations and some names - to do with important elements of the actual life of Che Guevara or the Cuban Revolution - because the work is largely devoid of context - it is as if someone made a movie about World War II by focusing on a World War II era German soldier - focusing exclusively on how the soldier tried to make it through the Russian campaign, but the film left out everything that got the soldier to that point - politically, personally, world events wise, and philosophically - stuff such as the rise of fascism in Germany, what that & the war meant to various Germans & the rest of the world - and then this movie was released into a world that did not know too much about World War II - that's the disappointment I feel about Soderbergh's Che. Being an American filmmaker, Soderbergh had the freedom to take a comprehensive look at the life of Guevara and the Cuban Revolution - he wasn't restricted by the Cuban government or the right wing in the US - as far as I know - so, Soderbergh could have spent some time showing us why the revolution happened in Cuba, and the good and bad events that resulted from the revolution. In one perspective it appears that Cuba traded one dictatorship for another - Batista's for Castro's, and economically the country went down hill fast. Then I also hear that life is better for some under the Castro dictatorship. What were the effects of Guevara's actions - what did it mean, what does it mean? We see Guevara marching through jungles & fighting for hours on end but not enough information is provided in the movie to judge whether he was a misguided fool or a brave & selfless humanitarian.

Further, I did not see a single scene in Che that showed Guevara in a negative light - from a mainstream American perspective. I saw more human failings on display in John Adams - another cinematic work (an HBO mini-series to be exact) about another revolutionary - so I figured that Soderbergh perhaps could be as bold as HBO (which probably is not asking for much) - but no luck. In the credits on the roadshow book that was handed out at the premiere it said that the movies were based on Guevara's diaries - so it appears that either Soderbergh or Guevara wanted to create the best possible impression about Guevara by leaving out any mistakes/reality/human failings from the diaries or the adaptation. Che feels like a movie made by a Guevara fan for Guevara fans.

I guess I wanted Soderbergh to show the full picture - cover a lot of details (specially since he had 4.5 hours) - about the Cuban Revolution and also to take a clear, comprehensive stand as to how he feels about it as a whole or various parts of changes that have happened because of the revolution. Instead I got a very well made movie that is more or less guerrilla porn: feel what it's like to train in the jungle, overthrow a government, die in the hills. Soderbergh could have done the same in a fictional story, without attaching the movie to the Cuban Revolution, but since he did, I expected more - more about the facts behind the revolution and what we in America should consider when we try to think about it, analyze it, endorse it or work against it or ignore it. For that I think I need to read some books & do my own research - Che did not do any of that work for me.

Two other recent movies about the Cuban Revolution - Before Night Falls and The Lost City were much more useful to me in getting information about various aspects of the revolution through the medium of cinema - about how the revolution affected various people in Cuba and world wide.

Check out Che for the acting, the cinematography, the excellent filmmaking craftsmanship on display - but you probably won't learn anything too useful about Guevara or Cuba by watching Soderbergh's movie. But, like I said at the top, I do hope Soderbergh continues to make other interesting & entertaining movies.

- Sujewa

1 comment:

The Obenson Report said...

"Che" didn't do much for me either, for some of your reasons and more.

Brandon Wilson and I reviewed it on my podcast last Monday.

His story reads so much more powerful on the page (in his writings and what others wrote about him), than it did in this particular film.

I just didn't feel the grandness of it all - of the man, and all he did, both the positive and negative - and I was hoping to walk away feeling somewhat inspired - not necessarily to run out and start my own revolution, but just informed and inspired, not only by the story, but also with the filmmaking. And I just didn't feel that here.

An HBO treatment would have been wiser - meaning, a multi-part series, or something like that, with each part being an hour or 2, for a total of 12+ hours, spread out over as many days, or weeks, covering Che's entire life, which would have likely given us a much more definitive, robust, portrayal of the man and his mission.

I can see why it wasn't immediately picked up for distribution at Cannes in May... it's a hard sell... with a budget of $60 million, it's going to be tough to make that money back, AND turn a profit - at least, not from American ticket sales alone. It might do well internationally, and maybe DVD sales will be brisk, but it's a tough sell, and a challenging film to watch - but not challenging in the sense that it forces itself upon you, or overwhelms you, but rather that, for a film about a figure as iconic as Ernesto "Che" Guevarra, it's surprisingly flat and even, dare I saw, dull in some parts. Not that I was expecting some spectacle... this film that I saw, just didn't move me the way everything I've read did. And the more I think about it, the more forgettable the film feels.

I've actually been telling people to instead read his books, and printed articles... because you'll learn a lot more about the man than you would watching the film...

But, as you said, I too would like to see the film succeed for reasons you already stated.

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