Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

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Posted by Oli on Thursday 1st January, 2009

New Year’s Day starts with an alarm call at 8.30 before I decide that actually I don’t really need to do what I was planning on doing, so I turn it off and sleep again.

I wake for real around 11 and grab some grub and take my tac before showering and dressing. I’ve got a cracking headache, which is a little weird as I’m fairly sure I didn’t drink that much.

I sit and chill for a while with K, then head off to the cinema to catch both parts of Steven Soderbergh’s new 2-part Che Guevara biopic.

It’s an amazing, epic, 4-hour film with a 15 minute intermission in the middle. The cast is all great although it is doubtful whether anyone will notice anything beyond Benecio Del Toro masterful incarnation as the Argentinian.

My only gripe is with the second part of the film which is, ironically, the part I enjoyed the most of the two, when there is a little more “star” casting, including Joaquim de Almeida and Franke Potente, neither of whom anyone else may have heard of, but they really dragged me out of a picture which has cast largely unknowns to people the Guerilla world. The worst of all, though, is a completely incongruous and potentially ruinous cameo from Matt Damon.

I know Steven Soderbergh and his love fro slipping his friends into his films and often it makes no difference, or actually serves to emphasise the comedy of a moment or simpy provide an amusing distraction. In a film as grounded and reality-based as this, however, it does nothing to serve the story and only helps to completely remove the viewer from the experience by forcing them to wonder if that really is Matt Damon playing a Spanish-speaking German priest. Silly and pointless.

Still, as a whole the two pics are utterly remarkable, even more notable for the speed with which is was shot and released, in time for the 50th Anniversary of the sucessful Cuban revolution that saw Castro’s rise to power.

Part One deals with that revolution itself, the initial beginnings through to the near-mythical battle of Santa Clara when power was finally rested from the Batista Government.

Part Two deals with Che’s failure to repeat the victory when he tried to take the revolution into Latin America via Bolivia, where he would eventually meet his untimely (or extremely timely, depending on your view, I suppose) death.

The first part cuts brilliantly between a “modern day” interview in New York on the eve of Che’s speech to the UN about the revolution in 1964, looking back on his view of the events in the revolution, meaning that Che himself sets his own story in context as we watch the flashbacks to the revolution itself. It seemed a little hackneyed to me – an over-used storytelling device designed to showcase the fact that Soderbergh can distinguish two ears with different camera work and visual styles, something we already know he can do masterfully from Traffic. As the film wears on, though, and as we edged into territory I didn’t have knowledge of, having a narrator, albeit a potentially biased one, really helped solidify the impact of what the revolutionaries were trying to do and what their philosophy was.

The second part is much more linear in structure, covering just his time in Bolivia from his arrival and assimilation into the just-beginning revolutionary movement, to the start of the failed revolution itself and his journey from there to his death in 1967. It’s a more coherent “war” film that shows much more clearly the dangers that Che and his men faced as members of a revolution doomed to fail largely thanks to the interference of the US Government to prevent any further anti-American dictators seizing power and turning against them as Cuba had.

I love Steven Soderbergh’s films and I’d sit through pretty much anything he does (except, maybe, Ocean’s 12 again), and I’m aware that my bias may well colour my judgement on this one, but I still think it’s a remarkable piece of contemporary filmmaking which stands a very good chance of becoming a defining portrait of one of the greatest legends (and urban legends) of the modern age.

After the flick I drop a friend off at theirs before heading to Kati’s Bro 2.2’s open house party, where I find all the gusts huddled round the Wii in the living room. I’m not there for long before I’m whisked outside by new Nephew to see his new bike – a 125cc scrambler that he’s immensely proud of and which we sit in the cold and tinker with for half-an-hour or so before saving our freezing butts and succumbing to the Wii.

I still have a huge headache, which is concerning me, as it seems like more than a hangover which, when I do get them, usually last no longer than an hour or however long it takes me to rehydrate myself. When we leave Bro’s I discover that K’s not feeling good either, so we wonder if it’s something we’ve eaten as opposed to the drink (K definitely didn’t drink a lot) or maybe just exhaustion from all that we’ve been getting up to.

We swing by KFC on the way home to grab some food as we’ve not got anything in, then head home and crash out on the sofa. I make a few phone calls to pass on my bro’s thanks to everyone for his Chrimbo pressies, then we settle in front of the 2-hour special Jonathan Creek, a show we both used to be addicted to as kids, only to find that it wasn’t near as good as it used to be (always the way) before calling it a night.


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