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‘Che’ Goes to Cannes

Posted on May 22, 2008
Che at Cannes
AP photo / Carlo Allegri

“Che”-makers: Star Benicio del Toro (left) and director Steven Soderbergh at the Cannes Film Festival photo call for “Che” on Thursday.

One of the most hotly anticipated contenders at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is “Che,” Steven Soderbergh’s lengthy biopic of iconic Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, featuring Benicio del Toro in the title role. However, whether the excitement surrounding the “Che” screening at the French film fest is any indication that moviegoers will flock to the (currently) 4-hour-plus production remains to be seen.

The New York Times:

The halves of “Che” are mirror images. The first, though it flashes back to Guevara’s early acquaintance with Mr. Castro in Mexico and forward to his visit to New York for an appearance at the United Nations in 1964, is essentially the chronicle of a successful insurgency. It follows Mr. Castro, Guevara and their comrades from 1956 to 1959, through the stages of their war to overthrow the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and it dwells less on their motives and personalities than on matters of military procedure. With impressive coherence and attention to tactical detail, Mr. Soderbergh shows how Mr. Castro’s initially tiny army fought its way down from the mountains of the Sierra Maestra and ultimately routed Batista’s forces.

The second half, devoted to the guerrilla campaign in Bolivia in 1967 that ended in Guevara’s death, is equally rigorous in its depiction of a failed revolt. Though Guevara tried, in a new context, to apply the strategic lessons of the Cuban revolution—concentrate on the countryside; cultivate popular support; maintain discipline and cohesion in the ranks—everything went wrong. And it turned out that Guevara’s adversaries, the Bolivian army and its American advisers, had learned a thing or two about how to wage an effective counterinsurgency.

There is a lot, however, that the audience will not learn from this big movie, which has some big problems as well as major virtues. In between the two periods covered in “Che,” Guevara was an important player in the Castro government, but his brutal role in turning a revolutionary movement into a dictatorship goes virtually unmentioned. This, along with Benicio Del Toro’s soulful and charismatic performance, allows Mr. Soderbergh to preserve the romantic notion of Guevara as a martyr and an iconic figure, an idealistic champion of the poor and oppressed. By now, though, this image seems at best naïve and incomplete, at worst sentimental and dishonest. More to the point, perhaps, it is not very interesting.

But “Che” itself is interesting, partly because it has the power to provoke some serious argument—about its own tactics and methods, as well as those of its subject.

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By troublesum, May 29, 2008 at 3:18 pm Link to this comment

How is it that the US government under Eisenhower allowed the Cuban Revolution to go on right under its nose while intervening in other places like Iran and Honduras to overthrow leftist regimes?  Its something I have never understood.

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By Plastic_Door, May 28, 2008 at 11:50 am Link to this comment

I’m Latin American; from my perspective, these kinds of things are really distorted. I’ll be the first to acknowledge people that DO read, research, think, and learn. I commend you and other posters here and elsewhere on the web that at least qualify their statements with a bit of stepping-back and reserve on their parts;

As a Latin American, I am FAR more upset by insular thinking, period. I don’t FAULT anyone (Americans, for example, as painted with a broad brush) for being mistaken about things.  That’s not, nor ever has been, my approach for advocating for “a” Latin American history cause, or whatever. There IS a middle-of-the-road in LatAm, and many many of the middle and upper middle class take that road and KNOW that it’s better in the long run not to scream about things too loudly. Our back yards are by no means tidy.

I just get upset; that’s all. I’ve done 2 masters in LatAm studies and 1 in critical theory; they have taught me most of all that politics, and I would say especially in the US, are grossly misunderstood, and that’s because political history is something that gets real personal real quick.

There’s always more than one side to any story. But having grown up in Lat Am in a rationality-prizing family in the dip corp, I for one will say with firmness that there has never been such a critter as a “comunista”;  political rhetoric is pure talk and abstractions, and justice-minded movements like the Cuban revolution or the Nicaraguan revolution were justice-minded.  When you have an oligarchy entrenched in economic and political power anywhere in the world, “democratic” or not, pretty much the only way to really EFFECT the POSSIBILITY for change is to kick them out. It’s radical surgery—-that’‘s unfortunate, but it’s also reality.

By now, on today’s date, the USA has really been suckered into being just like a little banana republic. The US is sorta its own worst enemy. And I say that because I am old, and I saw what happend to the US as a result of the Civil Rights movement. You were bought off. The Civ Rights movement was bought off; corrupted, coopted, and turned against you.

And that’s exactly what happened in Latin America. THAT’s politics:  how things happen very slowly, very sneakily, not by revolutionaries or whatever, but by sneaky people who use the system to perpetuate ITSELF. As a result of what the “right”-so termed—having coopted 60s progressive/change-directed tactics, theories, and LANGUAGE, the “right” has snookered the US into thinking almost automatically that it hasn’t been snookered!!  In other words, you’ve been victims of rhetorical and political judo. 

I’m so disillusioned with many justice/refomr-minded efforts; they’ve really been effectively emasculated, and I happen to believe they still are to this day.


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By Eric Barth, May 28, 2008 at 7:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

From everything I have read so far about the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and its aftermath, it seems to me that the repression of the Cuban people has been fairly mild compared to other Communist governments during the past century not to mention China today. The China that is our premier trading partner and the holder of our vast debt!! The vast majority of political opponents of the Cuban Government were during the early years were permitted to move to Miami. The Right Wing dictatorships in Latin America that we have backed to suppress any social democratic movements in that region have been vastly more violent. We sent them arms and trained their forces in “counter-insurgency and police techniques” (read torture and mass murder) to fight the “Communist Menace.” Then we try to force neoliberal economic policies on them and attempt to overthrow their governments when they resist.

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By Plastic_Door, May 27, 2008 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment

Well, Thomas Billis, you’re not Latin American; pipe up if you are!  Unless you’re Latin American, you have zero clue about what Ché is or was about. Zero. No matter how lefty you may claim to be.

Guevara was *certainly* no more “bloodthirsty,” “sadistic,” or “murderous” than the presidents, secretaries of state, and on down the dipl. line who have incited, aided, abetted, and fomented a hell of a lot of misery and heartache among the people—-Latin American and African—-whose lives of ideals and political rebellion Guevara touched, alive and after he was murdered. And he WAS murdered. He’s no myth. The legends in your own mind might be, however.

Nobody is a saint in this mess. Nobody. Just where do you get off the bus with a comment, much less a belief, like this???

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By WriterOnTheStorm, May 23, 2008 at 4:20 pm Link to this comment

It seems a peculiarity of American critics of Guevara to harp on his role in the executions of the Batista regime’s architects, as if this somehow reveals the true nature of the man. It’s a given that Guevara believed in armed conflict as a necessary evil in the struggle against economic exploitation, and did so long before he became an official in revolutionary Cuba. Those executions, the details of which almost no American critic understands or cares about, were the inevitable consequence of that cycle of violence.

Those who labor under the notion that devotees of the Che have somehow swept this under the rug are mistaken. In fact, many I have spoken to admire Guevara’s ruthlessness in particular.

But to say that this cold-bloodedness in the face of his opposition defines Guevara is inaccurate. He was nothing if not a walking contradiction, one of the more complex figures in recent history.

I’d be surprised if any movie constrained by the rules of the commercial film industry could reflect that complexity.

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By Thomas Billis, May 23, 2008 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment

Oh please.For 40 years the myth of Che Guevera has lived on.He was a cold bloode killer who like all tyrants wanted power and went to sadistic and murderous ways to acquire it.I am as liberal as any person writing on TD but this myth the left has built around"Che"hurts all of us.

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