Saturday, February 07, 2009

Che: Part One and Part Two

Movie Poster uploaded on Flickr by Cine Fanatico

If you are hoping to learn everything about Che Guevara from these two films, you will be disappointed. If you read about Che on Wikipedia or the most excellent book by Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevara, A Revolutionary Life
before coming to watch these two films, you will love what you see.

Che Guevara, uploaded on Flickr by Ray Cunningham

I was hoping for more history other than how they took Cuba and what happened when Che went to Bolivia. However, if director Steven Soderbergh and producers Benico Del Toro and Laura Bickman, who produced Traffic, would have taken us on a journey beyond Cuba and Bolivia, I believe they would need to make a 10 part series.

Che Guevara, photo uploaded on Flickr

To see Che in Africa, his relationship with the existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, also his relationship with his second wife, Aleida, who he met on the revolutionary trail in Cuba, and a more developed view of Che's complex relationship with Fidel would have been intriguing as well.

Che Guevara in Africa with President Nasser of Egypt, Pan-African News Wire

Instead, the films takes place primarily in the mountains of Cuba and the jungles of Bolivia.

There is some footage of Che's trip to the United Nations in New York, the interview with a journalist played by Julia Ormand, and the party he attended at her apartment full of New York intellectuals later that evening.

Che Guevara on Meet the Press, 1964, Pan-African News Wire

I did stay long enough through the credits to see that they did indeed use Jon Lee Anderson as their chief consultant. Excellent choice. I wonder if Soderbergh read the 754 page book and then decided to make this film.

The Anderson book is a thoroughly researched biography that reads like great fiction. I knew what happened to Che in the end, but cried all the same. The book gives such great little insights I never knew. Like how Che was banging the maid in the kitchen when he was very young in his upper class home.

Che's motorcyle

How the motorcycle trip he took through South America is what turned him away from his bourgeois existence and into a revolutionary. He could have easily finished his studies and lived a comfortable life as a doctor, married with children, and mistresses.

A side note, if you have not seen the film, Motorcyle Diaries, I highly recommend you rent it. The film is a perfect depiction of this defining time in Che's young life.

After his trip through South America, Che returned to Buenos Aires to finish his medical studies in record breaking time of three years. He took another trip up through South America into Central America and ended up in Mexico City. This is where he met Fidel. They spent many a late night discussing poetry, philosophy, and the revolution.

Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in Cuba after the revolution

As a matter of fact, they start the film in Mexico City at a dinner party.

And near the end of the film there is a flashback of the boat ride to Cuba. Fidel and Che managed to buy an old fishing boat and convince 80-100 recruits to join them on this revolutionary journey. Che looks at Fidel standing at the other end of the boat. A look to me that said he wasn't sure he trusted Fidel.

Fidel and Che in heated discussion

Many think Che was betrayed by Fidel and abandoned in Bolivia. We get some indication of this in Part Two when Che is in need of funding and asks a journalist to get a letter to Jean-Paul Sartre and Betrand Russell telling them he needs more financing for his revolution.
Benicio Del Toro, photo uploaded on Flickr

Benicio Del Toro does a great job in his film. Fidel is played by the actor who plays the mayor of Tijuana in the Showtime Series Weeds. It is shot in a docudrama style by Soderbergh. He often shoots his own films under the name Peter Andrews.

I am glad this film was made. I hope it sparks an interest in Che Guevara's life other than his image on t-shirts and posters that adorn many a college dorm room. It is an important part of history that sadly did not make my high school history books.
Movie Poster uploaded by Cine Fanatico on Flickr

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