Che Guevara As You Have Never Seen Him Before Review

Forty years after his death, Che Guevara remains a controversial figure. He was and remains a hero to the revolutionary Left – and his image has adorned many a student bedroom wall or T-shirt, especially in the Seventies. To others, he had blood on his hands – which is an illustration that one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. He was a self-proclaimed man of the people, but one not above executing people from his own side as well as the opposition.

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born in Argentina in 1928. As a young man studying medicine he travelled through South America (a part of his life dramatised by Brazilian director Walter Salles in The Motorcycle Diaries). There he saw at first hand the impoverished conditions of many of the people, and the episode helped harden his political views. In the 1955 he met Fidel Castro and joined Castro’s 26th of July Revolutionary Movement. After helping overthrow Cuba’s Batista government, he served as Minister of Industries, and was effectively second in command to Castro. In 1964 he left Cuba, beginning guerrilla operations in Congo. Two years later, he returned to South America, setting up operations in Bolivia. In 1967 he was hunted down by the Bolivian Army supported by the CIA and the US Army Special Forces. He was captured and on October 9 summarily executed.

Che Guevara As You Have Never Seen Him Before (Che Guevara donde nunca jamás se lo imaginan) is a 2004 Cuban-made documentary. With narration by Julio Acanda and Che’s words read by Patricio Wood, it is a pretty straightforward biographical piece made up largely of archive footage. Che’s father is interviewed from footage from a previous documentary. Given the film’s Cuban heritage it’s not surprising that the documentary is broadly sympathetic to its subject. That said, antagonists’ voices are also heard, notably a US soldier during the hunt for Che.

As with many historical documentaries, this is aimed at people who are beginners to its subject. If you are well versed in Che’s history, and that of 50s and 60s revolutionary socialism in general, the value of this film will be its archive footage. (There’s what looks like home movie footage of Che as a child, which is surprising to see at all considering it would have been shot in the mid 1930s.) Ultimately, this film invites you to make up your own mind about Che Guevara. It’s not difficult to applaud the goal while demurring at the methods use to achieve it.



The DVD


Che Guevara As You Have Never Seen Him Before is one of a batch of four “Cuban Classics” released by Network. The others are Beloved, A Successful Man and The Twelve Chairs. (Three further titles, Cecilia, Death of a Bureaucrat and The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin are forthcoming.) The disc is dual-layered and encoded for all regions.

Preumably with an eye to theatrical screenings, the film is in a ratio of (approximately) 1.78:1, despite being made up entirely of footage that would have been shot in 4:3. The result doesn’t look unduly cropped, so presumably the makers did some work with the optical printer moving the footage up and down as appropriate. The DVD is non-anamorphic. The black and white image is watchable, but nothing more. Allowances have to be made for the state of some of the archive material: often scratched, faded, with thick tramlines. Some footage is so degraded that all you can make out are grey shapes on a white background. On the other hand, the interview footage of Che’s father (which comes from a pre-existing documentary) is in relatively good condition. Less excusable are the telltale signs of a standards conversion: ghosting and a general softness.

The soundtrack is mono, dominated by Julio Acanda’s narration and a music score. It’s entirely serviceable but no more than that. English subtitles are optional. For sequences where people on screen talk in languages other than Spanish (those American soldiers speaking English, and one sequence where Che speaks in French), there are burned-in Spanish subtitles on the print itself.

Evidently thinking that a main feature running under an hour is hardly likely to seem value for money, Network have included three shorter documentaries as extras. “A Photo Travels Around the World”(12:49) tells the story of the image of Che which became iconic, and of the man who took the original photograph. “Among Friends” (27:47) concentrates on Che’s comrades Pombo, Urbano and Benigno, the war names of Harry Villegas, Leonardo Tamayo and Dariel Alarcón). “October 1967” (32:02) uses the same three men to reconstruct the events of Che’s last days. These three documentaries are also made up mostly of archive footage, almost all of it in black and white, and are in a similar state to the main feature. They are presented in 4:3.

Needless to say, this DVD will be of considerable interest to students of recent history, particularly that of Latin America, for which the archive footage and the first-hand testimonies will be valuable. For other people its appeal will be more limited. As a DVD presentation it’s not much more than functional.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
5 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

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