Thursday, May 19, 2011

2011 Cannes Marathon: Che (Expanded Criterion DVD Review)

Originally Written and Posted at on 2/7/09 w/ Additional Edits & New Content.

(Best Actor Prize Winner to Benicio del Toro at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival)

Revolutionary, killer, soldier, assassin, idealist, icon, and leader. Yet, Ernesto "Che" Guevara is a man that is beloved for his revolutionary ideals and guerilla tactics as he tried to help Third World countries fight oppression. He's also vilified for killing innocent people for his cause during the Cuban Revolution from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. Still, Che Guevara remains an icon, whether people like it or not, as he's on various t-shirts and people following his ideals. At the same time, he's been an interesting figure that's been celebrated with various film versions about him and his life. More recently, Walter Salles' 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries was about Guevara's early life in his motorcycle journey with a friend that would impact his idealism and oppression of the world.

With various other film versions about Che Guevara told, one filmmaker decides to create an epic version about Che Guevara's triumphs in the Cuba Revolution and the failure of Bolivia that would lead to his death in 1967. A project that was years in the making, it would be a project created by actor Benicio del Toro and producer Laura Bickford that included the involvement of the acclaimed yet reclusive director Terrence Malick, who had been in Bolivia in 1966 as a journalist working on a story about Guevara. Yet when Malick chose to drop out of the project to work on The New World, del Toro turned to Steven Soderbergh whom he had worked with in 2000's Traffic. Soderbergh, del Toro, and Laura Bickford immediately worked on the project with screenwriters Peter Buchman and Benjamin van der Veen. The result would be a two-part, four-hour plus project simply entitled Che.

Directed and shot by Steven Soderbergh, Che tells the life-story of Che Guevara in two different part and stories in his life. In the first part entitled The Argentine written by Peter Buchman, it tells the story of Che's arrival to Cuba, his meeting with Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution, and his speech at the United Nations in 1965. The second part entitled Guerilla written by Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen tells the story of Guevara's arrival in Bolivia to start a revolution where he would face failure and his own demise. An epic tale that chronicle a man's rise and fall as well as the history of the Cuban Revolution and Guevara's attempt to revolutionize other Third World countries. It is a compelling yet provocative film that strays away from the conventions of film bio-pics. With Benicio del Toro in the role of Che Guevara, the film stars an all-star cast including Catalina Sandino Moreno, Franka Potente, Victor Rasuk, Rodrigo Santoro, Demian Bichir, Lou Diamond Phillips, Edgar Ramirez, Santiago Cabrera, Roberto Luis Santana, and Julia Ormond. Che is truly a mesmerizing and entrancing masterpiece from Steven Soderbergh.

The Argentine

It's Mexico in 1955 as Ernesto Guevara, an Argentinian doctor is at a dinner party held by Raul Castro (Rodrigo Santoro). Arriving to the party is Raul's older brother Fidel (Demian Bichir) who is trying to plan a revolution to overthrow Flugencio Batista to free Cuba. Nearly a year later, Ernesto and the Castro brothers would take a leaky boat trip from Mexico to Cuba as part of 82 people and soldiers to start the revolution. Only 12 would end up surviving. Joining them are Camilo Cienfuegos (Santiago Cabrera), Juan Almeida (Roberto Luis Santana), Vilo (Jorge Perugorria), Vaquerito (Unax Ugalde), Esteban (Jose Caro), and Celia Sanchez (Elvira Minguez) among others. With Ernesto leading one group of troops with the Castro brothers each taking some soldiers, Ernesto hopes that if peasants join them. They also learn have to read and write in order to improve themselves as part of the revolution.

Things wouldn't start easy as Ernesto deals with his asthma attacks during walks through the Cuban jungles as he and men fight off Batista's forces. Though the victories are small and Fidel making deals with landowners to help them fight Batista much to Ernesto's chagrin. After recruiting more people including a couple of young brothers in Rogelio (Victor Rasuk) and Enrique Acevedo (Jorge Armando) plus Pombo (Othello Rensoli), Lalo Sardinas (Luis Gonzaga Hernandez), and Ciro Redondo Garcia (Edgar Ramirez). Ernesto's job was to train new recruits as he and Camilo would help the Castro brothers with more small victories after another. With peasants helping them, a young thief named Aleida March (Catalina Sandino Moreno) joins the cause as she helps Ernesto collect money and become his guide to cities.

After the successful victory of Santa Clara that would lead to the eventual surrender and departure of Batista, the Cuban Revolution succeeds. In 1964, Guevara arrives to New York City amidst protest and anger from some Cubans as he's interviewed by Lisa Howard (Julia Ormond). Despite meeting Eugene McCarthy (Jon de Vries) and defending the Cuban Revolution in front of the delegates in the United Nations while battling several ambassadors of other Latin American countries. Che Guevara succeeds in telling his ideas of the Cuban Revolution to the world.


It's 1965 as Fidel Castro announces that Che Guevara has resigned from his post for the Cuban government in hopes to spread the revolution that gave Cuba hope to South America. A year later following his failed attempts in Congo and Venezuela, Guevara gains a new look and identity for his next attempt to bring revolution to Bolivia. With Fidel's help to transport Guevara to Bolivia, Che leaves behind his wife Aleida and their four children as he plans his next adventure. With help from his old friends Pombo, Vilo, and Tuma (Norman Santiago) plus fellow revolutionary Tania (Franka Potente), Guevara under the name Ramon plans to overthrow President Rene Barrientos (Joaquim de Almeida) over the hardships facing peasants and miners.

Gaining a rag tag group of peasants and rebels to help, they take part in Guevara's Latin American revolution. With Tania being the messenger to the outside world, they attempt to get help from Bolivia's Communist party leader Mario Monje (Lou Diamond Phillips) who is convinced that the revolution will fail. With Regis Debray (Marc-Andre Grondin) being the contact to Castro, things start to move slow and with little organization. With Tania stuck in the jungle and her jeep investigated, she joins Vilo's team to continue the revolution as the groups are splintered in different locations. After an attack on Bolivian troops, Barrientos turns to the U.S. for help as several agents including Alejandro Ramirez (Yul Vazquez) to help combat against the rebels. Things get troubling following a visit from a journalist (Mark Umbers) as it leads to the capture of Regis Debray and another associate. With things crumbling, soldiers sick, some leaving to give information to the government, and the CIA training Bolivian soldiers, Guevara tries to maintain hope for the Bolivian revolution. Yet, as he also faces health issues with his asthma, the loss of some troops, and the increasing battalion of the Bolivian soldiers. Guevara goes for one last shot at fighting to death where he would meet his demise.

The bio-pic genre often follows a certain formula about historical figures or sometimes controversial figures. The big question in bio-pics is where to begin and how to end it. For a film about Che Guevara, it couldn't be told in a traditional bio-pic narrative. Even as there are many versions told about Che Guevara through various mediums with the most recent and successful being The Motorcycle Diaries about the young Che Guevara's South American journey. With that part of the story already covered, what is there to tell about Guevara? By basing his story and source from various stories including two of Che's books including Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War and The Bolivian Diary as the two main sources.

For The Argentine section, the film is more plot-driven as it's told back and forth from Guevara's 1964 interviews with Lisa Howard and his visit to New York City and to his first meeting with Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. With Guevara talking with a translator speaking for him, he tells his experiences about being a soldier in the revolutionary while doing things for the revolution. While screenwriter Peter Buchman doesn't stray from the fact that Guevara is a controversial figure whether people agree with his politics or not. It reveals what drove the Cubans to revolt against Batista and his dictatorship since he was implanted by the U.S. government. At the same time, it showed that Guevara did kill Cubans for what he believes is for the Revolution.

While it never follows the period of what happened after Batista's departure from the country and before Guevara's arrival to New York City in 1964. That's because it's an entirely different story that's more about Fidel Castro and the Revolution rather than Che Guevara. When The Argentine ends, it ends where it sort of began in Mexico with Castro's conversation with Guevara about the Revolution. It would lead to Guerilla, a section that is less plot-driven and more loose in the storytelling by Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen. It follows Che's attempts to kick-start a revolution in Bolivia yet things are much harder. Just as The Argentine chronicle's Che's rise, Guerilla chronicles his fall. Che becomes more ragged as the story is told as things become bleaker and troubling.

The script for Guerilla would reveal that unlike the revolution in Cuba, Bolivia is an entirely different world where the peasants aren't sure if they wanted Che Guevara around them. At the same time, unlike Batista's forces who are really paid soldiers who were unprepared for the guerilla tactics of the Cuban Revolution. The Bolivian government turn to the U.S. and CIA. for help. Just as Guevara thought he can still beat the soldiers, it wouldn't be enough as the soldiers are more prepared. Plus, the location and atmosphere is very different. At the same time, the soldiers that Guevara is training and leading aren't sure what they're fighting with some leaving and others selling out to the authorities. Therefore, the section of Guerilla reveals Che's failures and whatever hope he had been clinging to right to the end. Overall, the screenplay that Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen is truly brilliant in its emphasis on history and study of a complex yet controversial figure.

The direction of Steven Soderbergh is truly brilliant in its varied styles of filmmaking and presentation to each section of the film. In forgoing the traditional approach to telling the story, Soderbergh creates a different look and feel to the approach of the film in its different section. Also serving as the film's cinematographer under his Peter Andrews alias, Soderbergh takes advantage of giving the film a different look and feel. Therefore, the film is presented in different styles and looks along with different aspect ratios for each section to give a presentation that is unlike most bio-pics.

For The Argentine, the 2:35:1 aspect ratio brings a wide scope to the film as it reveals Cuba played by the jungles of Mexico and Puerto along with several town locations in those countries. The look of the jungle in its green look meshed with blue and yellow depending on the mood of the jungle and time is beautiful to look at. With some hand-held camera to capture the endurance of the journey and some of the battle scenes. Soderbergh's direction for those scenes is mostly straightforward as he mostly goes for wide coverage on what he wants to present. For the New York City portion, it's in black-and-white and with grainy 16mm camera footage to give the film a distinctive, 1960s New York look with some hand-held shots and lighting layers to explore the different world Guevara is in.

In Guerilla, the 1:85:1 aspect ratio gives the film a flatter look where things are bigger but not much coverage is captured. While the look of the film starts out clearer and colorful in its opening scenes in Cuba and the cities in Bolivia. By the time it's in the jungle, things become very different. The hand-held work is shakier, the cinematography is grayer to exemplify the bleak mood of the film. At the same time, the camera is more engaging in the way it captures the battle scenes and its energy, the point-of-view shots of soldiers fighting, and Spain being Bolivia which is truly more rugged than Cuba. It's as if the audience are right in the battle dead center in Bolivia. While they were also in the battles in Cuba, it's Bolivia where things become more in your face. At the same time, Soderbergh goes for more close-ups and shots to give the film a kind of claustrophobic feel as things are closing in on Che.

In this unconventional approach to the direction and storytelling. Steven Soderbergh really proves his masterful technique as a director while playing around with the conventions of the bio-pic. By focusing on three key events of Che Guevara and his impact on the Cuban Revolution and what he meant for some people that admired him and for those that hate him. It's clear that he's telling the story of a man who is driven to succeed at all costs. Even if it will kill him for the sake of his own beliefs while wanting to give hope to people who are repressed by their own governments. While Soderbergh chose to remain neutral in what people might say about Che Guevara. The film does succeed in what it wanted to which was to tell the story of a man who gave voice to those that didn't have a voice. Overall, Steven Soderbergh steps up his game as not just as a director but as a storyteller.

Editor Pablo Zumarraga does superb work with the film's editing in varied cutting styles to exemplify the tone of each section. For The Argentine, taking the section's structure in moving back and forth with smooth transitions, jump-cuts, and other cutting styles to give it a unique rhythm but also a pacing style that's more meditative. While the pacing is slow in some respects, it's because it displays the four years that went on from Guevara's first meeting with Castro to the victory of Santa Clara. In Guerilla, the rhythm of the film is looser thus giving the film a more leisurely pace that isn't too slow. In the use of jump cuts and other techniques for a fluid, energetic pacing in terms of the fighting scenes that are more intense than the ones in The Argentine. The cutting is more swift and engaging as Zumarraga goes for the intensity and looseness of that section. Overall, Pablo Zumarraga does amazing work in playing up to the film's varied styles as well as taking the challenge to cut a film that's nearly four-and-a-half hours.

Production designer Antxon Gomez along with set decorator Pilar Revuelta do amazing work in the recreation of the shelters, bases, and such for both sections of the film. With Clara Notari and Laia Colet as the art directors for The Argentine and Juan Pedro de Gaspar for Guerilla. The look of the film is very distinctive where The Argentine has a look where the furniture and housings are more well-put to display the unity of the Revolution. The city locations of Mexico and Puerto Rico as Cuba also works in several scenes, notably the Battle of Santa Clara where there's debris and a great scene involving a train. In Guerilla where it's shot mostly in the forest of Spain, the design for the shelters are more rugged and not as put together to display the troubles that would come for Che and his followers. At the same time, the locations of the houses are much older as it displays the different world between Cuba and Bolivia. The design of the production is truly fascinating in displaying the world and locations in its different atmosphere.

Costume designer Bina Daigler does excellent work in the costumes with the more put-together, intimidating look of the guerillas in The Argentine where it feels and looks like an army that's ready to fight despite their lack of proper resources. In Guerilla, it's more ragged with holes and loose clothing to display the troubles that is going on as Daigler's work is worth noting. Sound editors Larry Blake and Gabriel Guiterrez do brilliant work in the sound work that goes on for both sections. In The Argentine, it's more layered to display its atmosphere of the jungles and cities that the rebels fight on with sounds of planes, guns, and tanks that goes on. During the New York section, it's a bit more raw and intimate in the scenes where Guevara talks to the United Nations. For Guerilla, the sound is a bit more quieter but discomforting given the foreboding tone of that section. During the scenes of battle, it's more rattling and crisp to exemplify its tone as there's an intimacy but also rather discomforting to hear. The sound work in the film is truly magnificent in its wide approach to the film's sound.

The music of Alberto Iglesias is truly rich with soundtrack pieces of samba music to complement the world of Cuba in The Argentine while going for a more epic-like feel with somber arrangements in some of the film's dramatic scenes. For the battle sequences, there's an intensity to the score with sweeping arrangements by Iglesias while the music in the New York sequence are intimate but with large arrangements for the dramatic intensity of the film. In Guerilla, Iglesias goes for sparse arrangements and instrumentation for the tone of that section. With eerie, haunting bells and acoustic guitars, the score is easily more minimalist as it has this sense of chill that goes on. Overall, Iglesia's work is phenomenal in the diversity of the score and its presentation.

The casting by Mary Vernieu, J.C. Cantu, and Rodrigo Bellott are brilliant in its assembly of small roles and casting for the variety of film roles that are played throughout the entirety of the film. In The Argentine, there's some memorable small performances from people like Elvira Minguez as Celia Sanchez, Unax Ugalde as Vaquerito, Alfredo de Quesada as a farmer named Israel Pardo, Roberto Urbina as Israel's brother Guile, Jose Caro as Esteban, Mateo Gomez as a Cuban diplomat in the New York scenes, Bryan Huffman as Cuervo, Jon de Vries as Senator Eugene McCarthy, Jorge Armando as Enrique Acevedo, Carlito Ruiz Ruiz as Albertico, and Guillermo Ruiz as a Commandant from Santa Clara.

In Guerilla, small performances from Juan Carlos Vellido as a defeated major, Stephen Casmier as a U.S. captain, Mark Umbers as journalist George Roth, and as soldiers, Pablo Duran, Juan Salinas, Lorenzo Areil Munoz, Cristian Mercado, Diego Ortiz, and Ruben Salinas. Another small yet memorable performance from Guerilla as a German priest is a cameo appearance from one of Steven Soderbergh's regular and most famous actors.

In more memorable roles from The Argentine, there's Edgar Ramirez as one of the Revolution founders in Ciro Redondo Garcia, Victor Rasuk as young soldier Rogelio Acevedo, Santiago Cabrera as the more rambunctious Camilo Cienfuegos, Oscar Issac as Che's translator, Roberto Luis Santana as Juan Almeida, Bruno Bichir as Colonel Rojas, and Julia Ormond as journalist Lisa Howard who interviews Che for a series of interviews. In Guerilla, there's Joaquim de Almeida as the ruthless President Rene Barrientos, Lou Diamond Phillips as Communist party leader Mario Monje, Marc -Andre Grondin as Castro's French friend Regis Debray, Carlos Bardem as one of Che's loyal soldiers in Moises Guevara, and Franka Potente as Tania, the contact to the outside world who ends joining them in the guerilla fighting.

Appearing in both sections are Yul Vasquez as Alejandro Ramirez, an anti-Castro Cuban wanting to go after Che as he appears in the New York section and later as a CIA agent. Othello Rensoli as Pombo, Norman Santiago as Tuma, Armando Riesco as Benigno, and Jorge Perugorria as Joaquin are each memorable as loyal soldiers who fought for the Revolution and help Che in their attempt to free Bolivia. Rodrigo Santoro is excellent as Raul Castro who is the more likeable Castro brother. Demian Bichir is great as Fidel Castro, the man leading the Revolution as he helps Che in refining his political stance while helping him with the revolution in Bolivia by giving him a disguise and such. Catalina Sandino Moreno is wonderful as Aleida, the woman who would become his wife as she becomes his guide to the cities while helping him in the battles as she becomes the unlikely partner he would have in his life.

Finally, there's Benicio del Toro in what has to be a performance for the ages. Serving as one of the producers for the project, del Toro is truly the heart and soul of the film as he brings Che Guevara to life. As Che Guevara, we see a man who is about to embark on a life-changing journey while presenting challenges that a man of his character and physical disability with his asthma to keep going. What del Toro does is build a man who starts out as an ordinary doctor into an unlikely leader who is almost God-like where he's loved by some but also hated by others as he commands the screen with an intimidating presence. He allows Che to be humorous, accessible, and charming but also ruthless, dangerous, and uncaring at times.

By the time Che is in Bolivia, we see someone ready to embark on a new journey as the iconic man is seen pretending to be ordinary but then becomes the superhero of sorts that is revered by many. Yet, as he is in Bolivia, del Toro displays Che as a man that becomes human as he's forced to face new challenges that are overwhelming while trying to keep his head high. We see that despite these challenges and obstacles he faces, del Toro maintains Che's fighting spirit right to the end as he gives Che a send-off that is true to the man himself. It is truly a performance that can be described in so many words while it also proves that among his generation of actors, Benicio del Toro is truly one of those actors who will take on a role full-tilt and ready to go as it's his greatest performance to date.

***The Following 2 Paragraphs is an Overview of the Roadshow Experience***

For the film's release, it's presented in different theatrical styles. A regular release for the first part one week and the second part in the week after. Then there's the roadshow presentation. The roadshow presentation is a special film presentation for long films where audiences might have to pay double the average ticket price. Audiences are given programs that feature the film credits as once the film plays, there's no trailers and no credits. Just the film as it is. For a film like Che which has a running time of nearly four-and-a-half hours, each section begins with a location map. The Argentine begins with a map of Cuba and its sections while Guerilla displays South America and its varied countries. When The Argentine ends as it cuts to a black screen comes the Intermission display. The intermission lasts 15 minutes which gives the audience time to use the bathroom, get some food, or engage in conversations with the audience. It's an experience in today's film culture that is rare as audiences are more interested in something quick and to the point.

A film like Che is impossible to market to a wide audience for several reasons. It's a film that's four-and-a-half hours long with a fifteen-minute intermission. There are no credits before or after the film. It's in Spanish which includes subtitles. Plus, it's about a controversial figure that not everyone will want to see for political and personal reasons. Yet, Steven Soderbergh, Benicio del Toro, and producer Laura Bickford do deserve credit for taking a film that is ambitious and not straying to conventions in creating a compelling portrait of a figure as controversial as Che Guevara. Whether anyone agree or not with Guevara's politics, it does reveal that Che Guevara is an interesting personality who was giving a voice for the oppressed.

***Additional DVD Content Written on 4/28/11-5/16/11***

The 2009 Region 1 3-Disc DVD set for Che is definitely one of the key releases from the Criterion Collection. Supervised by its director Steven Soderbergh, the three-disc set includes the two-part film in 2 discs while the third includes various special features. The disc for the first part of the film is presented in a 2:39:1 widescreen aspect ratio while the second part is presented in a 1:78:1 widescreen aspect ratio as both films are altered a bit for its DVD presentation. Both parts are presented with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound.

Both the first and second disc each feature a commentary track from Jon Lee Anderson, the author of the book Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. Anderson, who was also a chief consultant in the film, provided a largely historical context to his commentary talking about Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. For the first part, he mostly talked about Guevara’s early life just after his journey that was chronicled in The Motorcycle Diaries. Notably Guevara’s journey from South America to Central America that eventually led to his meeting with Fidel Castro in Mexico.

Anderson also has some criticism towards the first part of the film over a few key events missed upon Che’s arrival and before the battle of Sierra Maestra. Anderson also touched upon Che’s relationships with Fidel Castro, fellow comrades, and his second wife Almeida March who helped out in the Revolution. Anderson also talks about Che’s visit in New York City where he discusses the tension between Cuba and the U.S. Particularly as he felt that Che was the last revolutionary of his kind while the revolutions that followed in the U.S. ended up being more superficial. Anderson talks about Lisa Howard’s fascination with Guevara while bringing some historical insights over Cuba’s feelings towards the U.S. that dates back to the early 20th Century.

In the second part of the film, Anderson talks about the chaos of the Bolivia campaign along with insights into why it failed. Some said that Che succeeded in Cuba because he had the help of Fidel Castro. Without Fidel being able to help him, Che was going to have a hard time trying to do something in Bolivia despite the group of people he had who had worked with him on previous campaigns. Anderson also reveals that the failure of the Bolivia campaign was much more complicated due to a variety of reasons relating to issues between Castro and Mario Monje, the Communist Party leader in Bolivia who was really a weasel.

Anderson talks about a lot of what happened in Bolivia and reasons why Che chose the country for the campaign mainly due to its history as Bolivia had a lot of struggle with leadership and such. Yet, it was much more complicated due to the fact that there was a group of people that were suspicious about having Che in Bolivia. There was also tension between the Bolivians and Cubans during the campaign because neither got a chance to know each other and there was no time. Particularly as there was a resentment of sorts of the way the Cubans ran things where Anderson said that the previous failures Che had in prior campaigns including the Congo were replicated. There’s also a discussion of the survivors of the Bolivian campaign where one of them along with Regis DeBray said things that Anderson felt was an attempt to revise history. Anderson’s overall commentary is quite relaxed as the historical insights he provides are very illuminating. The only other feature in the first disc is a theatrical trailer for the film.

The third disc features many special features about the film’s production as well as its historical context and the use of the RED Digital Camera. The 50-minute Making “Che” documentary features interviews with director Steven Soderbergh, producer Laura Bickford, screenwriters Ben Van Der Veen and Peter Buchman, and its star Benicio del Toro. The documentary chronicles the 10 years that was spent to develop the project as Soderbergh was involved early but left due to various projects. Even as they briefly discussed Terrence Malick’s involvement as he covered some of the Bolivian campaign in 1966 during his time as a journalist. Soderbergh eventually came back once Malick dropped out due to the financing issues that was plaguing the project as he brought in Peter Buchman to help with the script.

This would lead to further development as it came to the realization that a bio-pic of Che Guevara can’t be some conventional film as Soderbergh and del Toro were able to shoot scenes in the United Nations in early 2006 before its renovation. Soderbergh discusses that in order for the film to work, they would have to create something that is authentic and factual without being criticized for historical inaccuracy. Despite having no U.S. financial backing and having to leave stuff out for the film including Guevara’s time in Havana ordering executions and his period in the Congo. They went for three specific periods as a two-part film. For the production, the material for the first part was shot last as it proved to be harder due to the approach of the story as Soderbergh was using the film with the RED Digital Camera that he had been following for years in its development.

The film was completed three days before its premiere at Cannes as Soderbergh knew this was the film to be shown at Cannes. Yet, by the time it was ready to be shown for the festival. Five U.S. independent distributors went bust and there only two left at that time. Even worse was that the film’s release in the U.S. would be extremely difficult at a climate that is very disposable with movies which led to Soderbergh releasing it as a road-show so a new generation of filmgoers can experience. The overall documentary is an extraordinary piece about the difficulties about making the film as well as the big risk to release it in a very commercial-driven film climate.

The 23-minute interviews with people who knew Che such as the Acevedo brothers and Ricardo Alarcon as they each talk about their own experiences about the 26th of July Movement and Guevara while Urbano and Pombo talks about Bolivia. The Acevedo brothers recall their first meeting with Che to be one of disappointment though they realized his intentions as they also were grateful for him to make education an important factor. Alarcon talks about the period of the Revolution as well as the Battle of Santa Clara as he believes that the military in Cuba were devising a coup against Batista at the time. Urbano talks about the organization of the Bolivian campaign and how Che had disguised himself. Pombo talks about the last days of the campaign and how they tried to regroup and evade the Bolivian army. It’s another piece that insightful from the men who knew Che.

The 12 minute piece with historians Mario Mencia Cobas and Herberto N. Acosta. Cobas discusses the events that led to the 26th of July Movement all the way to Castro and Guevara’s arrival to Cuba and the battle of Sierre Maestra. Acosta talks about the first meeting between Castro and Guevara and the organization of their own plans to start a revolution in Cuba as well as their relationship. Acosta concludes the piece about the battles leading to Santa Clara as it was clear that the small victories would be the starting point as a victory in Santa Clara would be crucial for the Revolution to come to Havana. It’s an intriguing yet mesmerizing piece about some fascinating historical events.

The 26-minute End of a Revolution documentary by Brian Moser made in 1968 for British television is about Bolivia after Che Guevara’s death. It covers the harsh conditions that miners are dealing with including low pay and poor housing along with their own discontent towards the government. There’s interviews with Bolivia’s then-president Rene Barrientos along with Regis DeBray who was on trial at the time he was interviewed where he would be sentenced to 30 years though was released in 1970. It’s an engaging short documentary that recalls the history of Bolivia’s revolutions that they’ve faced for many years along with the small impact Guevara had in the miners who supported his revolution.

The 33-minute “Che” and the Digital Cinema Revolution featurette is about the RED Camera that was used for the film. Featuring interviews with Soderbergh, first camera assistant Steve Meizler, RED Camera developer Deanan Dasilva, first assistant editor Nat Jencks, and RED Code Chef Rob Lohman. They all discuss the evolution of the RED Camera as well as the reasons why Soderbergh wanted to use it so he can get the best new digital camera to capture available light. Yet, developing it proved to be difficult as by the time production was starting. Soderbergh and crew only got the prototypes that would heat up because of weather as they had to put ice packs to cool them. During the shoot in Spain for the second part, it was very difficult to clean them inside because there was no sensors between the lens and glass in the camera.

By the time they went to shoot the first part in Mexico and Puerto Rico, it got better as they knew what to do while cutting the film made it easier and immediate. Yet, in order to store the footage that was captured on film. They had to store them in 8GB flash cards where they bought 237 of those 8GB flash cards that totals to 2 TB of material. Then they had to put them in hard drives and backing hard drives for the post-production. Yet, that was tough due to trying to sync audio and video while transferring it to film. Soderbergh also revealed that another reason he wanted to use the RED One camera was its size as he hoped it would be smaller than film cameras. The camera with its equipment nearly weighed 20 pounds as it’s a great featurette about the advantages and disadvantages of the RED One camera.

The deleted scenes feature more than twenty minutes of content cut from the original film that features optional commentary tracks by Steven Soderbergh. From the fifteen-and-a-half minutes of material cut in part one are 10 scenes. The first is a short scene of men finding food on their trail that’s thrown away while the second is Che and Camillo having a conversation. The third is an encounter with Che and scared enemy soldiers who have a message from Castro. The fourth is where a group of men led by Ciro and Vilo meet a peasant woman whom they buy some food from her. The fifth deleted scene is where a man named Polo lead Che to a house he had been to nine years ago where Che makes some suggestions. The sixth scene is a short scene of soldiers listening to music on the radio much to the chagrin of Che.

The seventh scene is Che and Fidel’s reaction to the news over Frank Pais’ death as they figure out what to do about his work and such. The eighth scene is a short piece where Che talks to troops about the enemy who are definitely afraid while the ninth is a long scene over the death of a soldier by an officer as Che and Fidel have a trial. The last is a short scene is where Victor Bordon meets Che and joins him. Soderbergh’s commentary reveal that while a lot of the material are great stand alone scenes. He cut them for various reasons including pacing or the fact that there’s one too many scenes of this and such. He also revealed that in the first part, seven to eight minutes of deleted were shown in its premiere at Cannes.

Five-and-a-half minutes of deleted material from the second part of the film feature four scenes. The first is Che talking to soldiers about the importance of the mission while the second is a scene about a failed attack on a truck because of a mistake made by Che. The third is about Benigno’s return from the main camp where he found supplies and documents much to everyone’s relief that is followed by a final deleted scene where soldiers filled water in everyone’s canteens that concludes with a prank towards Che. Soderbergh revealed that the scenes were cut due to pacing issues as well as reasons over the portrayal of Che. The last scene was something Soderbergh heard about that he decided to shoot it even though it wasn’t going to make it into the final cut.

In the booklet that accompanies the DVD is an essay from film critic Amy Taubin entitled Why Che? Taubin’s essay talks about Soderbergh’s prolific career as well as the reasons into why he wanted to make a film about Che Guevara. Taubin says that the film in comparison to other epic bio-pics is a very different one since it has no political agenda or any kind of romanticism. Instead, it’s a film that is very unconventional which is why its initial reaction at Cannes was mixed. Taubin’s essay is an insightful yet engaging piece that talks about the film’s brilliance as well Soderbergh’s fearlessness into making an unconventional film. The DVD also includes a small poster of the DVD cover as it’s another superb DVD set from the Criterion Collection.

***End of DVD Content***

Che is a sprawling film from Steven Soderbergh that features a towering performance from Benicio del Toro. With a great supporting cast plus amazing technical work, locations, and diverse presentations to the film itself. It is a film that is truly one of a kind in an age where filmmakers either go for money-making blockbusters or tailor-made Oscar films. Soderbergh does neither but create a film that captures the life of a man who is both iconic and hated. For Steven Soderbergh, this film truly puts him in the list of the elite directors like Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, and Federico Fellini among others. For Benicio del Toro, this is the performance of a lifetime as he gives something that will never be displayed on film for many years to come. In the end, Che is a film that truly lives up to the man himself in all of his glory and failures into a story that is truly unforgettable.

© thevoid99 2011

No comments: