A Splendid Three-Disc Edition of Soderbergh's Unconventional Biopic
Benicio del Toro gives a superb performance as the title character in Che (2008), Steven Soderbergh's idiosyncratic Spanish-language biopic about Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928-1967). Che played a major role in the Cuban Revolution, and pop culture came to use a stylized image of his face as a symbol to convey an anti-Establishment attitude. More than four decades after his death, Che remains a controversial historical figure.
Che is a four-and-a-half-hour-long film comprised of two parts of approximately equal duration. Soderbergh envisioned a theatrical showing as consisting of the full movie, with the two parts separated by a 15-minute intermission. In an early version of the film, the first part was titled The Argentine, while the second was titled Guerilla. But these titles are not particularly descriptive, and eventually the two parts were called simply Che: Part One and Che: Part Two. On the Criterion Collection three-disc DVD set containing Che, Part One is on Disc One, and Part Two is on Disc Two. For both parts, there is a lively, instructive feature-length English-language reportorial audio commentary by a Che biographer.
Disc Three of the Criterion DVD set provides two-and-three-quarter hours of supplementary materials. These include a making-of documentary, info on shooting with the RED digital camera, deleted scenes, interviews with Cuban historians and real-life participants in the film's events, and a 1968 documentary about Che in Bolivia. Packaged with the DVD set is a booklet containing a nine-page essay by a well-known film critic.
The Film Focuses on Che's Day-to-Day Life as a Guerilla
The enduring image of the title character in Che is of him leading a small band of guerillas under wretched conditions in some harsh mountainous area of Latin America. He suffers from frequent asthma attacks, but he is nevertheless the good soldier. He acquits himself well in firefights, although he is not seen engaging in personal heroics.
Part One is about Che during the Cuban Revolution, while Part Two chronicles his involvement in an uprising in Bolivia. In Cuba, he leads the rebels in winning the pivotal Battle of Santa Clara, thus bringing Fidel Castro to power. But in Bolivia, Che has almost no success and is captured and executed. Essentially, Soderbergh has made a procedural about guerilla warfare in Latin America in the 1950s and '60s, and it is up to us to make of it what we will.
In Part One there is an interesting story thread about Che's 1964 trip to New York to deliver a speech at the UN. At the time he is the number two man in the Cuban government and lives comfortably in Havana with his second wife and their four children. He willingly gives all this up for a life of hardship fighting for the Marxist cause as a guerilla in Bolivia.
The film treats Che with detachment and ambiguity, showing many scenes of his life as a warrior, but telling us little about his personal life. The movie is visually arresting and feels authentic, but it doesn't offer much psychological insight into what made Guevara tick. However, we do get an impression he was an austere, pure-of-heart, single-minded zealot who often failed to exercise good judgment.
Audio Commentary, Making-Of and Other Bonus Materials
If you want to know more about Che than is in the film, listen to the commentary where Jon Lee Anderson, author of the 800-page biography Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, supplies a wealth of detail and historical context. Anderson and Soderbergh seem to agree on the facts, but the biographer sometimes prefers a different spin. He is adamant that the film should show the triumphal entry into Havana, but Soderbergh chose to omit it.
To find out more about the film itself, watch the 50-minute "Making Che," which consists mainly of interviews with Soderbergh, producer Laura Bickford, actor-producer Benicio del Toro, and screenwriters Peter Buchman and Ben van der Veen. Soderbergh says that if the movie's central character seems cold, it's because the real-life Che was not a warm and ingratiating person. Buchman admits that the biggest criticism they received is for not showing Che overseeing the execution of 300 to 500 Cubans after the war. We learn that the film was shot in Spain, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Bolivia, as well as New York.
Perhaps the most interesting of the remaining extras is the 1968 English-language documentary "End of a Revolution," shot in Bolivia shortly after Che was killed there. Another documentary is "Che and the Digital Cinema Revolution," about the lightweight, small, high-resolution RED camera. Also, there are 14 deleted scenes with a total runtime of 21 minutes. Finally, there are interviews with five men — three who participated in the Cuban Revolution and two who were with Che in Bolivia — as well as interviews with a pair of Cuban historians.
Below I have listed all the details for the three-disc Criterion Collection DVD set containing Che.Release Date: January 19, 2010
Number of Discs: 3
Feature Film Runtime: Part One = 2 hr. 14 min., Part Two = 2 hr. 15 min.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Aspect Ratio: Part One = 2.39:1, Part Two = 1.78:1
Color (With Some Black and White)
Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Audio Commentary by Che Biographer Jon Lee Anderson
Making Che (50 min.)
Part One Deleted Scenes (10 scenes, total runtime = 15 1/2 min.)
Part Two Deleted Scenes (4 scenes, total runtime = 5 1/2 min.)
End of a Revolution (26 min.)
Interviews With Real-Life Participants in Film's Events (23 min.)
Interviews With Cuban Historians (12 min.)
Che and the Digital Cinema Revolution (33 min.)
24-Page Booklet Containing Essay by Film Critic Amy Taubin