a couple of years of slowly getting around to it, Steven Soderbergh is finally ready to start shooting his movie about Communist guerilla and folk hero Che Guevera, starring Benicio Del Toro. Except that he’s decided his story is big enough for two movies.

The first film will be called The Argentine, which is sort of like a sequel to The Motorcycle Diaries. It opens as Che and a band of Cuban exiles (including the seemingly immortal Fidel Castro) sneak into Cuba in 1956, beginning their two year war against US-friendly dictator Batista and royally fucking up Michael Corleone’s New Years Eve.

The second film is called Guerilla, and it starts in 1964 when Che spoke at the UN, and follows him as he leaves Cuba to spread revolution in South America. He was eventually captured and executed in Bolivia. Soderbergh already shot the UN footage while visiting New York to do press for his teeny weenie DV movie, Bubble. The UN building was about to undergo renovation and Soderbergh wanted to get the old look on film before it was too late.

Peter Buchman (who also wrote… Eragon?!?) has written the scripts for both films, and is working with a translator to put the dialogue into Spanish. I guess Soderbergh has decided these films will be his arthouse entries for 2008. What’s exceptionally interesting is that Soderbergh has been shooting a Che documentary while doing research for the films, and has on-camera interviews with men who fought alongside Guevera. This is shaping up to be an utterly fascinating project.

And an infuriating one, if you’re a right winger. Che pisses the right off in a big way, which I think is a pretty glaring sign of their hypocrisy – they’re more than willing to paper over any atrocities committed by Americans, but Che’s potential crimes (including politically motivated executions) are unforgivable. I wonder how Che’s death toll stacks up against Nixon’s kills in his illegal Cambodian war.

Che has become a fascinating figure after his death, a very marketable image of rebellion. I have always respected Che not because of his specific political ideology but because he acted on his beliefs; after Cuba was won he could have spent his days there in corrupt luxury like Castro. Instead he proved that he truly believed in his ideal of revolution, and put himself in further danger – and eventually got himself killed – trying to bring that revolution to other people. Whether you like what his revolution was about or not, you have to admire the level of commitment he showed, especially in a world where politicians send young people to die in their stead for nebulous causes – over a hundred this month in Iraq alone.