Thursday, February 18, 2010

269 Minutes with Che

There is no question that the most romantic and popular symbol of revolution in modern history has been Che, one of the 100 world’s most influential people in 20th century named by Time Magazine. Ernesto "Che" Guervara was born to a white Argentina family (i.e. descendants of European immigrants) in Rosario, Argentina on June 14, 1928 and was executed without trial in La Higuera, Bolivia, on Oct 9, 1967 at age 39.

There have been numerous books, music, arts and merchandises made about Che.  Haven’t you seen
berets and T-shirts based on the famous 1960 photo Guerrillero Heroico (or "Heroic Guerrilla fighter") of Che (see right) by Alberto Korda?  Che has been much more than a Marxist revolutionary; he has become a symbol of counterculture and anti-Imperialism.  It is not hard to understand once we learned about his life and what he is:  Che was a medical student and chose to take a year off at age 23 to travel through and experience South America including volunteering at the San Pablo Leper colony in Peru.   What he brought back was the famous The Motorcycle Diaries and the conviction that the only way to help the poor and rid of injustice was through communist revolution.  He was a physician but he was not satisfied with caring a few people’s physical illness and chose to join Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.  He was an intellect and excellent writer but he chose to bear arms and became a guerrilla fighter.  He had serious asthma since childhood but excelled as an athlete and became a Comandante of Castro’s.  He could stay in Cuba after the victory to build a new country but he chose to go abroad for armed struggles in other countries.  Whether one shares with his views, one has to acknowledge his passion, dedication and honesty of his beliefs.

There have been several films made about Che in last decades including the popular and award winning 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries.  The latest 2008 biopic movie of Che by Steven Sodeburgh has now appeared in DVD in two parts, a total of 269 minutes.  It is well made and worth every minute of it.  Benicio del Toro was a perfect choice to play Che.  Part I is based on Che’s Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War.  It began with Che’s first meeting with Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1955 and ended as Che and his men marched towards to Havana after the crucial victory at Santa Clara.  No, you will not even see Havana or celebration of the Cuba revolution.  You will see however joyful greetings and reception of Che and his men as they “liberated” towns and villages.  Regardless your political beliefs or if the life of those peasants became better or worse, you can sense the excitement and satisfaction Che and his young revolutionaries must have had felt as they walked down the road.  The scenes in part I go back and forth between Cuba and Che’s 1964 visit to the U.N. that was climaxed at his “Homeland or death!” speech, a sharp reminder of the Cold War era that ended almost 20 years ago with the unfinished “business” between U.S. and Cuba till this day.

Part II of the movie is entitled Guerrilla that began with Che’s arrival at Bolivia in disguise and ended with his execution and death.  His deep belief and zeal for armed revolution as the only means to change the “world” brought him there.  But this time, many people of that country were not ready for him.  Unlike his success in Cuba, there was no Fidel Castro in Bolivia.  Without the support of the locals, he was met with a more disciplined military government who is determined to capture him with the covert assistance of U.S.  This part of the movie was dark and gloomy from beginning to end as we witness Che get closer and closer to his death.  There was no fan fare nor romance but traps and doubts.  The conviction and spirit was still strong but the body was growing weaker with the gruesome march and short of food and supplies in high mountains and jungles.  Che was eventually wounded and captured or in a ravine by Bolivian armies.  No he did not commit suicide but chose to surrender and possibly hoped to escape.  His persecutors did not want to leave it to chances though; he was quickly executed and secretly buried.  But the world did not forget him. His remain was eventually recovered 30 years later in 1997 and laid to rest in Santa Clara, Cuba, the place of his commanding victory during the Cuban Revolution.

The movie had evoked emotional responses of many film critics and actors, either in high praises or sharp criticism.  One can click on the following links, for instance, to see some of the discussions: Che (film) entry of Wikipedia, and Lee Ferguson’s You Say You Want a Revolution?  The bottom line though is like what Sodeburgh had said “… we're just trying to give you a sense of what it was like to hang out around this person…”.  Why don’t you spend 269 minutes with Che through Sodebeurgh’s lens and figure it out for yourself.

Talk to you soon!

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