Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Steven Soderbergh, 2008, two parts (8.0*)
Best Actor, Cannes

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara was a wealthy Argentinian doctor with a wife and five children, who gave up his comfortable life to help bring justice and dignity to the poorest classes in the Americas south of the U.S. If his was a U.S. 'pro corporate capitalist' story, he'd be a national hero here as well, rather than just in the rest of the world.

This bio of Che's guerrilla wars in Cuba and Bolivia is really two different films, but both are based on his diaries (he wrote five books). The first, originally called "The Argentine" is about the Cuban revolution, beginning with Che and Fidel in Mexico, then sailing for Cuba with just 82 men; it ends with the successful overthrow of military dictator Bautista, who fled Havana when it was obvious the rebels had succeeded. The cause was US corporations buying farmland from landowners there, and kicking off poor sharecroppers, who got nothing for their years of service. With 20% nationwide unemployment, many who had nothing else to do joined the guerilla army in the mountains in the east, and the movement steadily grew. This film also splices in media interviews and speeches of Che's at the UN after the revolution's success, all in black and white, while the war history is all in color.

The second, and more depressing half as it ends in failure and death, is 'Guerrilla', about the ill-fated and tiny Bolivian Liberation Army, which never exceeded 37 people, and was just 22 strong when he was finally captured and executed, after being hunted for a year by 5000 (or more) Bolivian army troops and US 'specialists' (meaning military and CIA intelligence personnel). What this film is lacking is showing the popular support in the cities, where over 100,000 were striking in support, as students, teachers, government, energy, and mining workers were all on strike in sympathy. Benecio del Toro gives a remarkable performance in these films, and was justly rewarded with the best actor award at Cannes. Unfortunately, the films fail to give us any other fully realized characters, including Castro himself.

These make a nearly exhaustive biography of Che when added to Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles' excellent film The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), about his travels around So. America on a motorcycle with best friend and fellow doctor Alberto Granada (who later founded the modern hospitals in Cuba). All these films are based on Che's own diaries, so we have an accurate first-person account of the important events of his life. Even though I would personally prefer Gandhi's non-violent approach to political change, I wasn't a doctor watching poor people dying daily from lack of healthcare, money, and food while U.S. corporations made billions in profit without sending a dollar of support, but rather syphoning off the wealth of these nations' natural resources for their own benefit alone. UN global economic experts today still bemoan this policy, enforced through the U.S. control of the Int'l Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which make multi-billion dollar loans to governments, but often only if they enforce regulations that benefit only U.S. based corporations at the expense of the local citizens. (ie, Africa can export raw peanuts, but is NOT allowed to make the more profitable peanut butter!)

These will basically appeal to war and history buffs, and those with revolutionary sympathies, which pretty much means a tiny western audience. Che said "a true revolutionary has to have a love of humanity, and a desire to see justice and dignity for all - I can't imagine any true revolutionary without these traits". In a century with very few real heroes or anyone who caused political or social change, Che, ranks alongside Gandhi, Mao, and FDR, and will inspire generations of revolutionaries worldwide.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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