When I wrote about Che: Part 1 – The Argentine, I mentioned the amount of detail Soderbergh was able to indulge in, thanks to having more than four hours at his disposal. Now that I’ve seen Che: Part 2 – Guerrilla, I realise that even with that mammoth running time, I still don’t really know anything about Che Guavara as a person. But that’s cool, because to me, these movies didn’t really seem like they wanted to be about the history of the man and how he became a t-shirt design for clueless dip shits. They are simply about two wars he fought and the extremes of success and glory he experienced in a relatively short time.
Toward the end of Part 1, there’s a flashback to Che (Benicio Del Toro) and Fidel Castro (Demian Bichir), talking about the revolution they’ll soon start in Cuba. When Fidel asks what Che wants in return for risking his life for a country that wasn’t even his own, Che answers that once Cuba is free, he wants Castro’s support in waging similar revolutions across South America.
As Part 2 opens, a heavily disguised Che is entering Bolivia, while Castro reads Che’s letter of resignation to the people of Cuba. He’s decided to give up his hard fought Cuban citizenship, rank as Comendante and high ranking place in Fidel’s government. Once in Bolivia, Che returns to the tricks and tactics that worked so well in Cuba. He mobilises the peasantry and starts training them to launch his latest revolution.
This is a different Che Guevara than that of The Argentine. In the first movie, we saw him earn his stripes, build loyalty and prove himself a hero to the Cubans. In Guerrilla, he has become a legend, talked about by his enemies in hushed tones. For much of the film, his enemies aren’t even positive he’s in Bolivia. He’s gone beyond the reality of the man to become almost an urban legend.
And that’s where Guerrilla gets really interesting. Che begins Part 2 as a conquering hero. He has bested Batista’s troops in battle and even taken on the Americans head on in diplomacy. But even with all of this momentum, there’s a sense of an inevitable downfall that haunts Part 2 from the moment it begins. I knew nothing about this Bolivian revolution before watching this, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say it doesn’t go so well. It’s obvious very early on that Che’s efforts are more than likely doomed from the outset.
Like I said, between these two movies, Soderbergh never really digs too deep into what made Che the way he is. Which is fine, especially since that’s something The Motorcycles Diaries covered just a few years earlier. This is very specifically about Che Guevara from the mid 50s to the late 60s. In a time when most biopics follow the same formula of traumatic child hood incident that explains every misstep the protagonist takes over the course of the rest of their life, I liked that Che was more concerned with who he was, not how he came to be.