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This is not a Soderbergh film. I’ve never considered him much of an auteur, despite considerable thematic and stylistic consistency in his work, but no film seems so far removed from his canon as this one. Yes it’s an epic, yes it’s in Spanish, yes it’s a biopic, but despite Soderbergh’s virginity in those categories, there is something much more distinct that makes Che such a remarkable piece of work. Clearly, it is the subversion of every expectation which separates this film from not only any other we have seen from the beloved revolutionary filmmaker, but also from any film in decades past.

To disclaim, however, I can make no attempt to evaluate this film in a typical manner. I won’t assign it a grade, nor while I provide any judgmental summary of my review. Such is the case both for the reason that I cannot decide (nor can Soderbergh) whether he has made two films or one, as well as for the reason that one viewing of the film seems entirely inadequate when attempting to assess, analyze, or even summarize it. Its story is so grand yet subtle, its visuals so electrifying yet confounding, and its performances so intense yet unsatisfying that I can only wonder how unique of a film Soderbergh intended to create and how much abstraction came entirely unexpectedly.

Part 1 (formerly known as Guerrilla) is the more daring, mystifying, yet intellectually and structurally engaging film of the two. In fact, just as the work as a whole is about involvement and participation, Soderbergh seems to be conducting a test on his audience, demanding not only an active viewer but one who is entirely aware of his or her own activity. Perhaps the situation will turn out to be applicable only to myself, but I cannot deny the way Part 1‘s narrative complexity mirrored its ideological complexity. To say that Soderbergh refused to make a Hollywood film would be not only a gross understatement but also an unfair simplification of what seem to be incredibly ambitious intentions.

Alternately and often simultaneously depicting Che’s address to the United Nations and his revolutionary activites in Cuba, Soderbergh provides visual distinction (as in Traffic) in a totally refreshing if initially distracting fashion. What was so fascinating to me is Soderbergh’s resistance to information. The point of a biopic, he seems to imply, is not to tell you about the events of a person’s life, or even to depict them at all. Rather extremely, he attempts to capture not even Che’s influential ideas, but the ideas which the society he inhabited surrounded him with. Less important than what incited Che’s drastic actions are the experiences that caused him to change while engaging in those actions.

I found the ideas racing through my head more stimulating than I had before with many other films. Although none of them were or are yet entirely crystallized, it is impossible to discredit the film for such complexity of vision. It is certainly not the narrative that thrusts Part 1, nor the visuals (though they truly are stunning), nor the charmingly zealous performance of Benicio Del Toro, but rather the thematic intricacies which demand further exploration.

What Soderbergh has accomplished in Part 1 can, through generalization, be considered an experiment, but what a grand and compelling experiment it became. It is an entirely new sort of filmmaking, especially within its genre, and while influence cannot yet be determined, it certainly makes the promise of further investigation by Soderbergh alone if not by many others. To call it a satisfying experience is neither accurate nor provocative, but it certainly becomes a memorable and integral piece of the puzzle which is Che as a whole.

Perhaps it is misleading to refer to the entire project as a whole film in any context, however. Part 2 proves to be such a radically different piece that its pairing with the one prior almost seems foolish. It is precisely the sort of “independent film” whose intensity Hollywood would often like to mimic. Its final act is the most nervous, tender, contemplative cinematic experience I’ve ever endured, and to call the entire film’s reflective nature Malickian would be cheap though not untrue. Che’s interaction with nature is certainly the core of the conflict, but nature, here, does not at all refer to wildlife in the way it often does in the recluse’s work.

The visual inventiveness in this film exceeds in magnificence that of any other Soderbergh work, if not any work altogether. It is a cinematographic accomplishment unparalleled by anything I can call to mind, and its enhancement of the uniquely compelling story is altogether orgasmic. Particularly in the final tragic moments, Soderbergh’s choices are felt but not seen, and the resulting intensity requires only speechlessness. The combat scenes are precisely like the work of Michael Bay, except the total opposite. They are calm, seductive, surprising, and contemplative. The violence is secondary to the nature of conflict itself, bringing ideological hostilities to the forefront.

Unlike the thematic basis for Part 1‘s structure, Part 2, while mostly episodic, is entirely tied to its story and suspense. It is a thriller unlike any film which proclaims itself a spot in that genre, and its appeal should hypothetically be mass, but that’s doubtful for obvious reasons. It is quite apparent, though, why this portion of the work has been received with greater enthusiasm. Certainly the more narratively engaging film, its ideas may be more subdued, but they can feasibly be deciphered. Still, this is ultimately the most gripping a film has been for some time, and Soderbergh’s mastery is the undoubted reason. Del Toro’s performance is also particularly good in this half, when he becomes a much more conflicted if not an entirely impenetrable character.

Che is a heroic film that demands to be seen, certainly on the biggest screen with the biggest audience, but, more importantly, with an open mind. Its experimentation is new not only in the way it is manifested but also in the manner in which it is performed. There is much more to say about the film and its achievements, and I cannot wait to not only see this again but, perhaps more importantly, discuss it with all of you!