In the second half of Steven Soderbergh’s Che Guevara epic, Che: Part Two aka Guerilla, the titular revolutionary (Benicio Del Toro) has disappeared from Cuba, leaving behind his comrade President Fidel Castro (Demián Bichir), his new wife (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and young children to make his way into Bolivia in disguise. Before long, Guevara is back in the wilderness, training a small group of guerrilla troops and trying to get support from the Bolivian Communist Party leader, Mario Monje (Lou Diamond Phillips), for a Bolivian revolution. Unfortunately, the guerrilla forces discover that they can get little support from the Party, from striking miners, or even nearby peasants. Faced with dwindling resources and a powerful, US-backed opposition, Guevara’s revolution is historically doomed.
As the rebel troops bicker amongst themselves and divide into Cuban and Bolivian factions, Guevara has to deal with setbacks that he did not have to face during the Cuban revolution. With no support from the xenophobic Bolivian people, the guerrillas seem like unwelcome outsiders instead of delivering heroes; in fact, as peasants and villagers refuse to align themselves to the revolutionists, some even betray them. There is no more light-hearted camaraderie between the fighters as there was in Cuba, just a grim bond of military brotherhood. When the Bolivian government retaliates violently against the rebels, cutting down their already small numbers, each death hits home harder than before and efforts to save the wounded become more poignant. Food becomes increasingly scarce and Guevara suffers through his asthma attacks without medication. When the guerrilla fighters are finally defeated and Guevara is caught and ingloriously executed in the most anticlimactic fashion (standing starved, wild-haired, but stoic in a cell with one armed soldier), the filmmakers make an unusual decision to create a hopeful rather than mournful ending. The film ends with a moving flashback to Guevara at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution. He is on a boat with his comrades, including Fidel and Raúl Castro who stand at the front of the ship. Guevara looks forward to the two brothers before passing a peeled orange to a faceless man behind him, symbolically passing the torch of revolution to anyone willing to join the cause.
Striking a completely different tone to the vibrant and exciting Che: Part One, Part Two is decidedly more sombre, shot in blue or desaturated tones and full of still, tense, quiet moments as if anticipating the depressing end of the unsuccessful revolution. The Cuban and Bolivian campaigns, although having the same goals, have very different circumstances, momentums and results. Soderbergh deliberately creates a dichotomy and dialogue between the two halves of Che, alluding to dialectics (thesis + antithesis = synthesis), with opposing but connected themes of victory and failure, idealism and realism, and having and not-having. However, both parts still retain their stylish, experimental, detached look with a fuzzy coherence in terms of timeline, place, and characters in the amorphous jungle wilderness. Interestingly, Soderbergh rationalizes not delving into Guevara’s background or interior life in order to portray Guevara’s own collectivist ideology. He avoids close-ups and one shots in favour of semi-distant and group shots of the iconic revolutionary to show a bigger, less individualistic picture. Ultimately, the two halves of Che are complex, reflective, memorable, engaging, and open to discussion and analysis, just like their controversial subject.
Rating: 5 out of 5 charitable eye surgeries