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Cannes 08: “Che.”

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05232008_che.jpgThe noxious thing to say would be that when Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” is whittled down and divided up into two solid-sized features for realistic theatrical consumption, it’s not going to be nearly as good as it is in the Brobdingnagian, barely finished form that screened here at Cannes — 268 minutes, with no credits but with an intermission, during which the festival staff proffered brown bags stamped with “CHE” containing a bottle of water and half a sandwich, and smokers and non-smokers alike crowded onto the balcony to feverishly light up. And to be sure, there are resonances between part one and part two, with the first charting how Ernesto Guevara, played by Benicio Del Toro, became a comandante, braiding together pre- and post-Cuban revolution moments with the fighting, and the second closing in on his doomed campaign to foment an overthrow of the Bolivian government, ending in his capture and execution. But the latter half is really where it’s at. The former, which will become “The Argentine,” is functional, Soderberghian documentation: Guevara at dinner, debating over everything that needs to change; victorious, shot in black and white, being interviewed in New York, arguing on the floor of the U.N. and thanking Senator Eugene McCarthy at a cocktail party for the Bay of Pigs invasion and its united effects on the Cuban people; and arriving in Cuba with Castro, taking to the jungle and the art of guerrilla warfare, struggling through asthma attacks and outsider status, setting aside training as a doctor and becoming a commander who insists on the kind of unrelenting discipline one would expect from an enlisted army. It’s a sober go at finding the man behind the t-shirt, unglamorous, unromanticized, and also, alas, a stately slog.

Or maybe it’s just an exceptionally long, background-laden prologue to “Guerrilla,” which is linear, less efficient, more poetic and unhappy — “The Assassination of Che Guevara by the Bolivian Special Forces.” Left unseen, though not unmentioned, in the caesura: Guevara’s divorce and remarriage (to Aleida March, played in the film by Catalina Sandino Moreno), the execution of hundreds of members of the Batista regime at La Cabaña fortress, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro’s rise in power and Guevara’s unsuccessful trip to the Congo. It begins with Guevara, having vanished from the public eye, slipping into Bolivia, where he and friends from Cuba begin to recruit and train local forces for another enterprise in franchising revolution. Guevara’s half legend by now, and though he’s going by “Ramon,” potential guerrillas tremble when shaking his hand. A little older, a little weary, Guevara’s still a believer, though that belief is now cut with the knowledge that idealism goes better with overthrowing governments than with establishing and maintaining new ones.

Camped out in the Bolivian jungle, Guevara starts once more from the beginning, but nothing takes — the national communist party, led by Mario Monje (Lou Diamond Phillips), won’t give them support, and the peasants have been seeded with mistrust. This time around they don’t seem to ever get to the fighting, just preparation, waiting, running and hiding, negotiating for goods to survive, and falling, one by one. Famous faces show up throughout all of “Che” in unexpected places: “Raising Victor Vargas”‘s Victor Rasuk is a 16-year-old recruit, Julia Ormond is actress/reporter Lisa Howard, Franka Potente is Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider. Strangest of all, though, is Matt Damon, who appears in “Guerrilla” as a Spanish-speaking German priest who claims to have been appointed by the peasants to request the guerrillas leave them alone, that Guevara and his forces aren’t Bolivian, that they’ll never be trusted — outsiders once again. The days tick by on screen, approaching a year, as food grows scarce, run-ins with U.S. Special Forces-taught troops turn out to be devastating, supporters are slaughtered and, even if you didn’t know it was coming, it becomes obvious that Guevara is going to die there, far from his family and adopted home.

It’s something he seems aware of too, and it’s in the lingering ends of the film that Del Toro glows, his Che asthmatic, meditative in defeat and unfaltering, even when finally caught. “I believe in mankind,” he tells his guard, a statement of fact that precedes a preposterously guileless bid for escape, an all-in bet that doesn’t pay off. But it’s a belief that’s truly heroic, particularly in the face of the ugliness that quickly follows, and it’s one that Soderbergh has managed, in “Che,” to eulogize without also having to canonize the man to whom it belonged.

[Photo: “Che,” Laura Bickford Productions/Wild Bunch, 2008]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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