There are just a couple of weeks left to see Steven Soderbergh’s Che: Part One, about the first three years of the Cuban Revolution, before the sequel, Che: Part Two, is released on February 20th. Based on Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s memoirs ‘Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War’, the film provides a captivating insight into the initial guerrilla warfare stage and Guevara’s role in the revolution, from 1956 to January 1959, as a group of rebels marched through Cuba from the southwest coast to Havana. ‘Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War’ was first published in 1963 as a series of articles and was then translated into English in 1968.
The opening scene features Argentine Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Fidel Castro’s first meeting in Mexico City in 1955. Following their release from prison, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro Ruz had fled to Mexico earlier in the year with other exiles to prepare a revolution to overthrow the US-sympathetic Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. The Cuban Revolution is typically known to have begun on July 26th 1953 when a group of rebels, including Fidel and Raul Castro, attacked the Moncanda military barracks in Santiago and in Bayamo. The attack failed, however, and the two brothers were captured and put on trial. Fidel was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and Raul received a thirteen-year sentence. In 1955, however, the Batista regime freed all political prisoners including the Moncanda rebels.
As a result of their meeting, Guevara agreed to join the band of Cuban rebels led by Fidel Castro on their journey to Cuba. They left Mexico in November 1956, arriving in Cuba on December 2nd 1956. The film is centred on their two-year journey and guerilla warfare battles through Cuba to Havana, as they gain increasing popular support and finally successfully topple the government of Batista in January 1959. On January 1st 1959, Batista fled to the Dominican Republic. Guevara and his troops entered Havana on January 2nd and Fidel Castro arrived on January 8th. The film is interspersed with flashbacks to Guevara’s speech as the head of the Cuban delegation at the United Nations conference in New York in 1964 and extracts from an interview with an American journalist, in which the ‘Che’ recalls the initial years of the revolution.
Guevara, in an excellent performance by Benicio del Toro, appears as a loveable father-like figure to which the audience immediately warms and his ideals and strong moral values of equality and justice, for both the Cuban people and the entire population of Latin American, are immensely inspiring. The film does also, however, raise a number of questions. Is this depiction, based on Guevara’s own writings, not possibly over-idealised? Did Guevara’s tragic death not also cause him to be remembered as a hero, overlooking possible faults and flaws in his leadership and ideals? Will the second part of the film be consistent with this view or will he be portrayed in a somewhat more shaded light? With the rebels now in Havana and Batista in the Dominican Republic, how will the revolution be implemented?
Patience and Che: Part Two will hopefully tell…
For more information on Fidel Castro, his depiction as a revolutionary guerilla leader and the practical achievements and structural changes that he brought to Cuba, read our article Makers of the Twentieth Century: Castro
For a review of Cuba in April 2008, when Castro handed over the reins of power after 49 years, read our article Which Way Cuba?