Dec 16, 2008

Che: or Guerilla Warfare is a Pain in the Ass

Mr. Ex-Enchilada used to hate movies that made him waste his time. Once, I saw him leave a movie before the opening credits were over. I never understood how a movie wasted your time. Even if it is awful, there is always something to learn. Thus, I can tolerate a lot of time-wasting crap.
And so I stayed for the 4.5 hours of excruciating, unforgivable boredom that is Che, the revolutionary vanity project from Benicio del Toro and Steven Soderbergh, both of whom should have their heads examined. I freaking stayed for the closing credits only to find that there aren't any. This is the only time in my moviegoing history where I've felt I irretrievably lost almost five hours of precious life. I'm still mourning them. I will never forgive myself.
Three days later, I'm still wondering what's the point. For this is not a film. It is a history lesson in the life of a saint. And what could be more mindnumbingly boring than that? This Che is a virtuous, solemn character who has no other personal traits than unwavering virtue and a soft spot for the downtrodden. Every single time he opens his mouth he spews out revolutionary slogans.
Somebody asks him "How is Cuba?" and he answers: "progressing". Not gorgeous, not infuriatingly sui generis, not lovely and lush and fucked up. Virtue is so boring. And boredom in film is an unforgivable, cardinal sin.
I wanted Che to fart, laugh at a joke, lose his temper with Fidel (a wonderfully cartoony turn by Demián Bichir), be a womanizer, have moral doubts, burp once in a while, but no. There he is crossing the Sierra Maestra for two hours and a half, choking with asthma, and then he's stuck in the Bolivian forest for another two hours and a half, in the idiotic revolutionary misadventure that cost him his life and the lives of those who followed him into it. And during the course of this time nothing changes in him. He ministers to the sick and the poor like St. Francis of Assisi. He teaches his soldiers math and reading. He is like a benevolent father, a human god who metes out fair military justice. He reads books in the shade while the Cubans joke around. He shakes every single peasants' hand. He is not of this world. Apparently, he indeed was a singleminded virtuous guy, but then this is not the stuff of drama. It's the stuff of t-shirts.
There are many battles but there is no suspense. According to this movie guerrilla warfare is a hurry up and wait kind of gig. In Cuba, it is not clear how Fidel and his mangy band of soldiers won that war, although the movie makes clear that Fidel was the military strategist (and cabrón extraordinaire). Actually, a collateral damage of this film is that you end up loathing Che and admiring Fidel. At least, he's still there, the invincibly shrewd motherfucker. He got rid of all the competition (this is not something you learn from the film). He sent romantic Che to Bolivia, and he offed the charismatic Camilo Cienfuegos, who is actually the best thing in the movie. I'm actually going into imdb right now to find out who is the actor who plays him. He was the only thing that brought the film to life. Just found out: Venezuelan heartthrob Santiago Cabrera, in a star making turn.
The audience, who clapped at the sight of the Cuban map as the movie began, and who clapped at the end of the film, laps it all up. It's like nuns at an audience with the Pope. For Che is one engorged human legend who can bring out the faithful. And what is more naive and sentimental and basic and pathetic (and boring) than unquestioning worship, particularly of the political kind? I have always had tremendous distaste (and seething contempt) for the cloying, sentimental, inhuman kitsch of the far left. I think it is disgraceful that this movie takes that route.
Steven Soderbergh is an extremely competent filmmaker. The movie was shot with the RED camera and it looks gorgeous. He is his own DP. His framing is exquisite. But where is the writing? Where is the internal conflict? Where are the antagonists? The only antagonist is American Imperialism, who is a rather wooden actor, if you ask me. Because of this lack of drama, I don't know if trimming the film to half of its length could even work.
But the worst feeling is that of still not knowing what the hell is this movie about or what is its purpose? Other than getting methody Benicio, sporting an untraceable accent, but speaking more clearly than ever, a nomination, beats me.

No comments:

Post a Comment