Last weekend, Telelatino showed the docu-drama Che, starring Benicio Del Toro, in two three-hour installments on Friday/Saturday night. The massive movie, with a total run time of 270 minutes (that’s four-and-a-half commercial-free hours, FWIW), earned Del Toro a Best Actor award at Cannes, but wasn’t even nominated for any Oscars, cuz, y’know, it was about a communist revolutionary. Of course, I’d seen the subject’s face on many a hipster’s t-shirt here in The Annex, but I really didn’t know much about him, aside from the fact that he had ties to Castro and the Cuban Revolution. Alas, the Steven Soderbergh-directed bio-pic, which was based in part on the man’s actual diary, doesn’t do much to address the hype machine surrounding this mythical creature. It does offer a pretty decent look at what he actually did during the Cuban, and later the Bolivian revolutions, however, offering a stark contrast between the two events.
Of note, the movie is almost entirely in Spanish, aside from the periodic question-and-answer narrative in Part One where he’s being interviewed by an American TV reporter before addressing the UN. This certainly adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings–hey, it’s not like the Cuban guerrillas would talk to each other in English–but does test one’s concentration in attempting to follow along with subtitles between 10 pm and 1 am. Fortunately, I studied Spanish for five years, and while I don’t speak it fluently, I can pick up what people are saying once I adjust to the accent. After a while, I didn’t need the subtitles to pick up the dialogue–but still, I almost fell asleep at least a couple times.
That’s probably because the film depicts a pair of long, drawn-out conflicts. Sure, it has its share of action scenes, but unlike, say, a Sly Stallone flick, we don’t jump from one fight sequence to another. There’s a lot of hiding in the jungle, planning attacks and bartering for food with peasants that wouldn’t make the cut in Rambo 14, let’s put it that way. And we aren’t even regaled with too many images of victory, either. The first part (shown on Friday) ends with Guevara leading the troops towards Havana, where they’ve yet to do battle. When we pick things up in Part Two (shown on Saturday), Castro announces Che’s disappearance from the country, and not long afterwards, he’s flying into Bolivia to do battle.
Mind you, in Bolivia, he wasn’t welcomed with open arms. Unlike in Cuba, where the population joined forces to help overthrow the government, the Bolivian peasants seemed leery of these wild men, many of whom came from outside of the country, taking their food and supplies–and actually collaborated with the army to take down Che and his band of revolutionaries. Thus, instead of dying a heroic death, he was coldly executed by a common soldier on the orders of the Bolivian president. But suffice to say, his legacy would live on…
Don’t get me wrong, I can see why the guy was an icon in Cuba; although he isn’t portrayed as the strongest general in the revolutionary army, he used his skills as a doctor to help heal and educate the people while also uttering catchy phrases as he blew up buildings with a rocket launcher. It helped that he close to Castro, who would elevate him to virtual sainthood when he took over the country. But I can’t understand the man’s international appeal, especially so many years after the fact. Communism is a dead ideology, surviving only in a few backwards dictatorships where the common folk suffer for the leaders’ gain, and existing in name only in China–which, let’s face it, has pretty much embraced capitalism, even if it remains state-controlled. Sure, his Robin Hood story might appeal to some, but I’m not about to shell out 20 bucks for a t-shirt from The Che Store anytime soon. Soderbergh hasn’t swayed me in that regard!