CHE - part 1 & 2

Oct. 9, 2011 will mark the 44th anniversary of the death of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in Bolivia where he was captured and executed by Bolivian armed forces who were assisted by the CIA.

The Steven Soderbergh movie CHE (2008) is presented in two parts, the first part called The Argentine is about the Cuban campaign and the role that Che Guevara played in the Fidel Castro led revolution against the corrupt Batista dictatorship. The second part called Guerrilla is about Che’s guerrilla campaign in Bolivia where he was killed.

Based on Ernesto Che Guevara’s diaries and the book “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson that includes seven years of research, director Steven Soderbergh, who also directed Contagion (2011), Traffic (2000), Erin Brockovich (2000), Solaris (2002), The Good German (2006) and The Limey (1999), uses a style of filming that is well suited to this type of biographical material.

This movie is stunningly photographed in remote locations, using a high performance digital cine camera with the quality of 35mm film mixed up with some black and white footage that gives the film a documentary feel, and in fact, the movie feels more like a diary of Che’s experiences during his time fighting in the mountains of Cuba and Bolivia. The films feel like a docudrama on how to conduct a revolution and guerrilla warfare tactics against a superior government armed force, while helping the peasant country folk, who they depend on to survive.

As a document on the hardships and problems of creating a revolutionary rebel force while living off the land in remote locations with little food or shelter, and educating the peasant class while recruiting soldiers to defend them against an uncaring government, the films succeed beautifully. But don’t expect an exhaustive portrait of the life of Che Guevara. There are no details about his personal life here; we only see parts of his revolutionary life in Cuba and Bolivia.

I, like most people, knew of Che Guevara; had seen his image and knew what he represented but never really knew how and why he became such a powerful icon of rebellion. This film answers some of those questions but what this film also does, is instill a sense of curiosity about the man and his extraordinary drive and passion to make the world a better and more humane place to live in for everyone. 

Throughout the film, you see him trying to treat everyone fairly by taking away privileges from the few and sharing them with everyone, making sure that everyone gets treated equally and without prejudice. Che is kind of like a Robin Hood figure, trying to give to the poor what the state has denied them because of greed and because they are seen simply as worthless. Because Che was a doctor, he could offer a valuable service to his soldiers and to the remote village people who normally don’t have access to medical expertise. Using this expertise freely, he was able to win over the guerrilla soldiers he commanded and the common people in the countryside. The message he brings is ‘the privileged beware because the people who you marginalize will rise up against you.’

Other excellent movies come to mind while watching CHE; like the recent Carlos (2010) which was also about a revolutionary fighter.  I am Cuba (1964) which is a Russian film about the Cuban revolution and some of the photographic style of that movie is also evident in CHE, and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) about Che’s early life in Argentina and South America.

Benicio del Toro, recently from The Wolfman (2010) and 21 Grams (2003), gives a fantastic and very realistic performance for which he won a best actor award at the Cannes film festival. Most of the cast are unknowns to me except Catalina Sandino Moreno form Maria Full of Grace (2004), and Love in the Time of Cholera (2007). I was surprised that Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Philpps also made cameo appearances.



mike martin said...

Viva Che!! I am a social activist/freelance writer/workplace wellness consultant in Ottawa.
Nice to meet another Canuck.

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Shiran said...

Good Review. Well balanced and incisive.

Sandra McLeod Humphrey said...

Another wonderful review and another film to add to my "To See" list. Thanks for your very insightful reviews!

Roberta KISTS said...

Che was a fascinating character in history. While I have not seen the film, I am intrigued having read the review. Look forward to seeing the film sometime.

Janine said...

I dont know why Ive never heard of these films. I never actually knew Che was a doctor either. Im intrigued!

Pranay Nigotiya said...

hi John, thanks for such a nice review and enlightening explanation of these 2 movies based on real life story. Being a movie i look forward to seeing these movies. Thanks.