Rating ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ◊
Ernesto Che Guevera was for a while considered as the ultimate counter-cultural symbol and the absolute icon of revolution. He has become synonymous with the betrayal of that image. A man whose life was dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism is now adorned on T-shirts and iron-on badges across the world. He’s probably spinning in his grave.
Che and Fidel Castro’s violent coup against Batista’s government in the late 1950’s is depicted in Steven Soderbergh’s two-part, four-and-a-half-hour long film. The first half has just been released whilst the second is due for release in February.
Based on Che’s own reflections, Soderbergh’s film is a tribute rather than expose. Benicio Del Toro’s performance lionises the hero rather than revealing him, depicting a man of absolute and uncompromising integrity. It’s made up of a mosaic of very recognisably Cuban motifs; cigars, facial hair, green khaki and red stars.
In one brilliant scene, guerrillas descend from the jungle to take a military post. A laughing, bandana-wearing guerrilla takes a swig from a bottle of HavanaClub before lighting a rag and using it to firebomb Batista’s grunts. It revels in the imagery and parades in the vicarious glory of a legend told.
This observant, self-aware eminence provides the impression that it’s almost a film about itself. By adding to the iconography in such elegant fashion, Soderbergh has succeeded in reinvigorating both the myth of Che and the scope of his achievements. the serene way in which it’s shot and acted imprints itself on one’s mind.
It forces home the point that Che won the battle of Cuban hearts and minds. That his powers to convince and lead, his unswerving belief in self-advancement and his sense of justice and morality were surer than the use of his rifle. This is a film that merely defines and re-defines the red and black lines, rather than filling in the gaps. But its lack of detail is maybe its main strength, and is a reminder that a guerrilla living in the jungle could inspire revolution in a foreign country purely through the force of his own convictions.