Che Parts 1 & 2 Review

The Films

Marx got it wrong. When he predicted that it would be mature capitalist states that would provide the ideal situation for eventual socialist revolution. Russia, China and many smaller nations were far from the models that Marx believed would be perfect societies rife for uprisings. Despite this, Marx's ideas, and particularly the notion that the poor and the oppressed could rise up and liberate themselves from exploitation, still inspire many people in many nations.

This inspiration has proved so potent that the last century, and most of the current one, has been dominated by the struggles of those who have power and those who desire to turn the tables on them. Such potency has been built up by the creation of heroes, but time has the effect of tarnishing such men and women. The great Mao was made ridiculous by his do it yourself industrialisation, the conqueror of King Idris and the author of the Green Book now longs to be loved by the West, and years of counter propaganda left Castro as a frail dictator. It seems that the one sure way to avoid the judgement of age is to die young, to leave behind your iconic youthfulness and your uncompromised ideas.
Che Guevara is a hero who never grew old. He is a myth fit to decorate a t-shirt, the inspiration of bedroom Marxists, and a shaming example to those of us who settle to be guilty consumers rather than liberators of the oppressed. He was also the living embodiment of an idea - that revolution and liberation can be exported everywhere, that those who are rich because you are poor will get theirs, and that justice will return again.

In truth though, Guevara was just a man. An Argentinian doctor who dabbled in the politics of Guatemala and got his fingers burnt by American intervention, who then joined the anti-Batista forces of Castro. He saw liberation from imperialists and their cronies as the cure for Latin American poverty. He preached Marxist solidarity and offered himself as an example of a revolutionary man. He joined the Cuban revolution and excelled at guerilla warfare, eventually offering his services to rebellions elsewhere as an agent of the international liberation he was committed to.

In Steven Soderbergh's four and a half hour treatment of Che the man, we see him grow into his beliefs and grow into a leader of men. Part one, The Argentine, deals with his success in the Cuban revolution and presents this framed within a speech he gave to the United Nations in 1964 where he outlined the philosophy behind the Castro government and the ongoing liberation struggle. The second part, Guerilla, joins him in the midst of the Bolivian jungle attempting to plot the overthrow of that government, but coming to grief over peasant apathy and CIA tactics. Soderbergh's films acknowledge the poverty and injustice which fired Guevara, and it maintains a sympathy for those fighting against the forces which would keep oppression in place. He shows first a revolution which brought long lasting change, and then a failure which brought crushing defeat.
Benicio Del Toro's Guevara is charismatic. He is loyal to Castro with honestly, and privately, expressed doubts. He is hungry for change, impatient, sometimes foolhardy but proves an excellent leader through force of personality and discipline. The values of his character punish those who exploit the oppressed, and this punishment is delivered with direct explanation and unwavering commitment.

Some effort is made to show that Che carried out executions and killed in fighting for his cause, but these actions are shown in the context of serving a cause that is intentionally selfless. Those who question the man's role in the political executions of the Castro regime may find this even handedness hard to stomach, although I would wonder what the point of watching a project like this would be for such a viewer. The second part offers more in terms of the failings of the man. The Bolivian adventure often seems an unmitigated disaster as the Cuban led efforts fails to find Bolivian roots, and the complete lack of a mass uprising is hammered home again and again. Guevara's small army is adrift from communication with Castro, disconnected from Bolivians, and hopelessly outnumbered by the CIA's heavy involvement.

Until very recent times, the story of failed struggles for liberation were legion in modern Latin American history. Che's defeat in the second half of this project will ring bells for those who know of the counter-revolutions in Allende's Chile and the Sandinistas' Nicaragua. The response to Guevara's idea of exporting the revolution has been well resourced counter-insurgency, and perhaps his defeat became a model of sorts for the forces of conservatism in the region. Still, it's sobering to note that the last five years have seen a proliferation of leftist and popular based governments in Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Nicaragua, and even Bolivia itself.
And this brings me back to another idea that Che represented: that of the martyr, the example to the oppressed. Popular based uprisings to reclaim countries for their people may now occur through the ballot, but perhaps the commitment that Guevara represented is now part of the success of the leftists on the continent. Che's inspirational mixture of real world organisation and idealistic leadership is what Soderbergh's film sees so well. Through the naturalism of long take sequences and objectified steadicam work, Soderbergh's film is shot by the director himself to place the viewer in the midst of the action, but with enough distance in authorial tone to consider what they think of Guevara himself.

Che parts one and two are an ambitious achievement, superbly photographed and edited, with performances searching for some truth amongst dogma and history. This isn't a warts and all treatment of a revolutionary icon, but it is objective enough to not resort to lecturing or posturing. It reminds the viewer of the potential of the director of Traffic and Sex Lies and Videotape, and, after a very lean period, it will confirm that Soderbergh is a very talented film-maker still. The films themselves are essential viewing for anyone with a passing interest in the continent of Latin America, and those attracted by the poster boy image will find a symbol fleshed out into a real man by Del Toro's meticulous performance.

Transfer and Sound

The level of detail on this transfer both in shadow and bright light is stunning. The image often has a posterized look about it in the darker scenes such as the image below, but generally the clarity and the vibrancy of the colour is remarkable. Contrast allows inky blacks and plenty of grayscale information, there is nothing like edge enhancement to be seen and both file-sizes for the two discs are around the 30 GB level. If you use a home media PC, you may like to now that Powerdvd 9 crashed when playing the first film from the main menu, although it was fine when starting from the scene select option.
There is a sole DTS HD MA 5.1 track available on both discs which is a very clean mix with elegant dimensionality and strong treble and prodigious low frequencies. Both films are in Spanish with English subtitles, and these are removable with a pleasing easy to read font.

Discs and Special Features

Both discs are under 70% used and are region b encoded. The first part has the very strange experience of including adverts for Maltesers and Sky before you can appreciate the Marxist rhetoric of Guevara, I am sure the man himself would have approved of Rupert Murdoch and his liberal enlightened media organisation! Forced trailers begin both discs for other Optimum product.

Part one carries an interview with the director, a teaser, a trailer and a featurette. The featurette features main cast and the director and seems to have been taken from a Spanish speaking source as Soderbergh is subtitled as the only English speaker here. Del Toro talks about what a great opportunity this was to balance the story on one of the icons of the twentieth century, and Soderbergh explains why he didn't take any interest on Guevara's family life. It's as wonderfully superficial a featurette as you could expect. In the interview the director explains how he was first approached about the project when he made Traffic and how the project changed from just looking at the Bolivian fiasco to including the Cuban revolution.

With the final part, Del Toro is interviewed and talks about his preparation for the role and the intention to maintain a sense of impartiality in the representation. Composer Alberto Iglesias talks on how he got the gig here, the importance of avoiding melodrama in the music, an intentional reference to Planet of the Apes, and how he used folk music as part of the score for the second film. The final interview is with the author of A Revolutionary Life, Jon Lee Anderson who explains how he became interested in writing a biography from hearing from modern day revolutionaries about what an inspiration Guevara was to them as part of his work as a journalist in Latin America. He had opportunity to live in Cuba and meet many of the people involved in the struggle and was keen to get past the myth of the man to construct something more real. The final extras on this disc is the theatrical trailer for part two.


These films will please those interested in the continent and these discs are a delight in terms of visual quality.

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Category Blu-Ray Review

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