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On November 26, 1956, Fidel Castro sails to Cuba with eighty rebels. One of those rebels is Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a young Argentine idealist and doctor who shares a common goal with Fidel Castro - to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Che proves himself an indispensable fighter, and quickly grasps the art of guerrilla warfare. As he throws himself into the struggle, Che is embraced by his comrades and the Cuban people. THE ARGENTINE tracks Che's rise in the Cuban Revolution, from doctor to commander to revolutionary hero. After the Cuban Revolution, Che is at the height of his fame and power. Then he disappears, re-emerging incognito in Bolivia, where he organizes a small group of Cuban comrades and Bolivian recruits to start the great Latin American Revolution. The story of the Bolivian campaign is a tale of tenacity, sacrifice, idealism, and of guerrilla warfare that ultimately fails, bringing Che to his death. Through this story, we come to understand how Che remains a symbol of idealism and heroism that lives in the hearts of people around the world.
Lauded for its documentary approach yet also experimental in nature, Steven Soderbergh's Che spends over four hours chronicling different phases in the revolutionary career of Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro). In Che: Part One, the successful Cuban campaign is covered, interspersed with glimpses of Guevara's camera-ready visit to New York in the Castro Revolution's aftermath. This section can't help but approximate the outline of a battle epic, despite Soderbergh's anti-romantic approach, and ends up being a stirring account of guerrilla action (it also has the bonus of Demian Bechir's uncanny impersonation of Fidel Castro). Che: Part Two jumps ahead to Che's grueling later experiences in Bolivia, where he traveled to aid the homegrown insurgents but found much less fertile ground than in Cuba. Here Guevara is--figuratively and visually--lost in the jungle, as Soderbergh reduces the characters and story to a series of factual sequences laid end-to-end. It's not Dr. Zhivago, that's for sure, although it does last longer. By spotlighting two specific sections of Che's life, Soderbergh sidesteps the less heroic aspects of his struggle, including the executions that followed the Cuban Revolution (omissions that brought criticism from anti-Castro Cubans). But the film's approach is so intentionally flat that such criticisms are almost not worth the trouble. And while Benicio Del Toro sinks into the role of the asthmatic jungle fighter with total commitment, his Guevara is an elusive protagonist, seen from a distance except for the scenes in which he's being turned into a celebrity during his NYC interlude. In short, Che is a very intriguing idea for a movie, and not a terribly engaging film. --Robert Horton
DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
Audio commentaries on both films, featuring Jon Lee Anderson
" Making of Che," a new documentary about the film's production
New interviews with Cuban historians
New interviews with participants in the 1958 Cuban Revolution
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Amy Taubin and more
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The film compares favorably to the epics Lawrence of Arabia by David Lean and Gandhi by Richard Attenborough. It is beautifully filmed and features outstanding acting by Benicio del Toro as Che and a dead-on portrayal of Fidel by Demian Bichir. Although it is 4 1/2 hours long, there are gaps in the film which need to be filled in and Jon Lee Anderson does this, as well as providing a different perspective. I have seen many film commentaries; this is the best so far. Anderson's commentary is deep and as compelling as the film itself. It answers many questions that arise from watching the film.
There are by necessity gaps in all the great film epics. The complete story of Che could not be told in 4 1/2 hours, but in Anderson's commentary much missing information is added. For example, Anderson points out that in Cuba Che was ruthless and made a practice of killing all prisoners, but in Bolivia he did not, and those he released came back to haunt him. He also explains that Cuba was ripe for revolution but Bolivia, which had a long history of unsuccessful revolutions, was not. Also, the leadership in Cuba was united under Fidel Castro but in Bolivia was badly fragmented.
Whether you like this film or not may depend upon your politics, as is evidenced by the reviews written so far. But I think Soderbergh has done his best to provide a fair and accurate portrayal of Che the man, warts and all.
This Criterion version, of course, sports an absolutely beautiful transfer, fantastic audio, and a collection of substantial supplements. Watching the 'making of' documentary framed my experience of watching what felt like an important film (not just for its subject but for filmmaking in general) perfectly; Soderbergh's frustration at the state of serious contemporary filmmaking--or the lack thereof--is almost tragic to behold after witnessing this labour of love. When he laments that it feels as if movies--serious movies--don't matter anymore, I recalled the sensation of experiencing the film's opening overture's sounds and images. They made a statement of intent: this was going to be the real-deal; a piece of serious moviemaking of a kind that hasn't been seen since the 1970s. And it was.
If you love movies, you should love the fact that 'Che' the film even exists. While I'll admit that a 4+ hour movie that seems to gladly toss away classic dramatic structure may not be everyone's cup of tea, the fact that someone's sheer determination to bring their vision, uncompromised, to the screen should give anyone who loves movies reason to applaud.
If you care about serious cinema, you owe yourself a viewing of this film.