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On November 26, 1956, Fidel Castro sails to Cuba with eighty rebels. One of those rebels is Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Benicio del Toro), an Argentine doctor who shares a common goal with Fidel Castro - to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Che proves indispensable as a fighter, and quickly grasps the art of guerrilla warfare. As he throws himself into the struggle, Che is embraced by his comrades and the Cuban people. After the Cuban Revolution, Che is at the height of his fame and power. Then he disappears, re-emerging incognito in Bolivia, where he organizes a small group of Cuban comrades and Bolivian recruits to start the great Latin American Revolution. The story of the Bolivian campaign is a tale of tenacity, sacrifice, idealism, and of guerrilla warfare that ultimately fails, bringing Che to his death. Through this story, we come to understand how Che remains a symbol of idealism and heroism that lives in the hearts of people around the world.
For more about Che and the Che Blu-ray release, see the Che Blu-ray Review
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Demián Bichir, Rodrigo Santoro, Julia Ormond, Joaquim de Almeida
Director: Steven Soderbergh
» See full cast & crew
Che Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, January 2, 2010
Nominated for Palme d'Or and winner of the Best Actor award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Steven Soderbergh's "Che: Part One" and "Che: Part Two" (2008) arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. Amongst the supplemental features on the two discs are: an exclusive audio commentary by Jon Lee Anderson, chief consultant on "Che" and author of "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life", which was recorded in 2009; "End of a Revolution", a documentary by film producer Brian Moser, who was in Bolivia in 1967, trying to interview Che; "Che and the Digital Cinema Revolution", deleted scenes and more. With optional English subtitles. Region-A "locked".
Che: Part One
There were two films in 2008 that made an enormous impression on me. Both were about powerful men with controversial legacies. Some critics hailed these films as cinematic masterpieces; others dismissed them as flawed attempts at rewriting history.
The first film was Paolo Sorentino's Il divo: La straordinaria vita di Giulio Andreotti, an incredibly detailed look at the life of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, whose image was severely compromised during the early 90s by allegations of ties between his government and the Italian mafia. The film went on to win the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
The second film was Steven Soderbergh's ambitious Che, a poignant portrait of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Guevara. Since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, the film has received an enormous amount of publicity in Europe and Asia, but in North America it has been very much a persona non grata. It subject matter, I am sure, has a lot to do with that.
Che is divided into two parts - Che: The Argentine and Che: Guerrilla. Director Soderbergh structured both as collections of memory flashbacks linked through an extremely long interview Guevara gave during his famous trip to New York City in 1964, where he represented the Cuban government at the UN. Each of the two parts highlights key events from the life of the Argentine revolutionary.
The first film is primarily about Guevara's emergence as a political leader. Director Soderbergh focuses on the relationship between Castro and Guevara, their clash with Batista's forces and consequently Guevara's New York City visit. Many of his extremely controversial speeches at the UN are recreated with notable precision.
Director Soderbergh also addresses Guevara's interaction with those who questioned and opposed his political views. Unsurprisingly, throughout the film, there are a number of references to critics and enemies of Guevara. This is very important to note considering that many have dismissed Che as one-sided, shameless piece of propaganda.
The chronology of events is complicated. Director Soderbergh repeatedly goes back and forth between different events highlighting specific details - portions of statements, remarks and confessions - that allow the viewer to better understand Guevara's position on a number of issues. During the second half of the film, where the political rhetoric is of key importance, the approach works very well.
Che is a notably sterile film. For long periods of time, director Soderbergh's camera observes the action from afar, de facto preventing the viewer from becoming emotionally involved with the main protagonist. Obviously, this has to do with director Soderbergh's desire to be as objective in his portrayal of Guevara as possible, drawing a clear line between myth and reality.
Director Soderbergh's intent, however, is precisely what appears to have divided the critics. Some have stated that his film's honest and unapologetic tone is precisely what makes it work (Ethan Alter, Film Journal International); others have argued that behind the guerrilla warfare footage and passionate anti-American speeches there is a disturbing message, one that has very little to do with Guevara and his legacy (Betty Jo Tucker, ReelTalkReviews).
Che: Part Two
Che: Guerrilla opens up with a summation of the events leading to the mysterious disappearance of the Argentine revolutionary (Benicio del Toro) from Cuba. Then, we see Castro (Demian Bichir) reading a personal letter from Guevara in front of members of the Cuban Communist Party. It is October 3, 1965.
A year later. Guevara arrives in Bolivia disguised as a member of the OAS, the Organization of American States. He immediately heads to the mountains, where with the help of other rebels he sets up a large training camp. People from different parts of the country join him.
A representative of the Bolivian Communist Party, Mario Monje (Lou Diamond Phillips), meets Guevara and explains to him that his comrades would not support him. The BCP leaders are not convinced that Guevara, a foreigner, and his men can unite ordinary Bolivians and lead them against President Barrientos (Joaquim de Almeida).
Meanwhile, the news about Guevara's arrival in Bolivia reaches Cuba. Castro is also informed that the Soviets have instructed Monje not to negotiate a deal between Guevara and the BCP. Concerned, the Cuban leader vows to support his Guevara as much as he could.
Back in Bolivia, President Barrientos and his government gather to discuss how to deal with Guevara's rebels. In front of the media, they insist that Guevara is not in the country. Across Latin America, news stations begin to cover the Bolivian crisis. Shortly after, President Barrientos asks the US government for assistance.
The CIA sends military specialists to Bolivia. They are expected to train the Bolivians into three categories - intelligence, weapons communication and demolition. They are also expected to educate them politically.
Guevara and his men are forced to hide high in the Bolivian mountains. On October 7th, 1967, they are surrounded nearby the Yuro ravine. After a fierce battle, most of the rebels are killed while Guevara is captured alive. He is immediately transported to the village of La Higuera. Two days later, Guevara is executed.
Similar to Che: The Argentine, in Che: Guerrilla the narrative has an episodic structure. Key events - from Guevara's mysterious disappearance in Cuba, to his arrival in Bolivia, to his capture - are recreated with utmost precision. This being said, it is important to note that neither Guevara's actions nor those of his opponents are in any way glorified.
The many battle scenes in Che: Guerrilla are effectively filmed. You will notice, however, that they are far from being flashy. Often times, they look like something you would see in a documentary feature. There are no pompous revolutionary speeches in Che: Guerrilla either. The few times when Guevara addresses the questions of ordinary Bolivians who ask about his beliefs, he does so using simple words.
The overall tone of the film is set by Benicio del Toro's phenomenal performance. The enormous character transformation he undergoes between Che: The Argentine and Che: Guerrilla is indeed one of the most remarkable performances I have seen by a contemporary American actor. Simply put, for the duration of the two films, del Toro is Guevara.
Some critics have dismissed director Soderbergh's project as a "bloated biopic" and "a pro-Castro, anti-CIA film made by a mainstream director" (Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle). I could not disagree more. To me, Che is a serious and exceptionally well researched film about an influential political figure and his controversial legacy.
Che Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratios of 2.39:1 and 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted 1080p transfers, Che: Part One and Che: Part Two arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears in the booklet Criterion have provided with this release:
"Both films were shot with the RED One Digital Cinema camera at 4k resolution, and the entire production was completed om a fully digital workflow. The original theatrical color timing was done with Assimilate Inc.'s SCRATCH system, viewed on a 2K digital cinema projector through custom Technicolor 3D Look-Up Tables (LUTs) designed to emulate film print stocks. During the grading sessions, the original R3D RED files were used and standard 2k 10-bit log DPX files were rendered out within SCRATCH. The DPX files were then used as the source for the film outs and the digital cinema DCDM. The final color-corrected DPX files were then turned for all home-video uses, such as these Blu-ray and DVD releases.
Note that certain sequences in Che: Part One were photographed in 16mm film; the black-and-white 1964 New York scenes in standard Super 16mm, and the color 1955 Mexico scenes in Super 16mm with custom anamorphic lenses (squeeze ratio 1.44:1) manufactured by Panavision. Had RED digital cameras not become available in spring 2007, Part One would have been photographed in its entirety in this format, and Part Two would have been photographed in standard Super 16mm."
I decided to include the above information Criterion have provided for this supervised by director Steven Soderbergh Blu-ray release because there have been plenty of questions about the different aspect ratios Che: Part One and Che: Part Two utilize after we reviewed the British Blu-ray discs by Optimum Home Entertainment.
I don't see a drastic difference in quality between Optimum Home Entertainment and Criterion's releases of this rather controversial film. Detail is fantastic, clarity excellent and contrast levels very good. As I noted in my reviews for the British discs, there are certain nighttime scenes in Che that look somewhat soft, but apparently this is how they were shot by director Soderbergh. The pseudo-documentary footage also looks identical on both releases. Furthermore, there are absolutely no stability issues of any sort; both films look spectacular when blown through a digital projector. Finally, I did not detect any serious image deteriorations to report in this review. To sum it all up, this is indeed a very strong presentation of Che. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free player in order to access its content).
Che Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on both discs: Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (with an option for Spanish and English voiceovers on Che: Part One). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. For Che: Part One, when turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
As expected, the audio treatment is fantastic. The bass is strong, the rear channels intelligently used, and the high frequencies not overdone. The dialog is crisp, clean and very easy to follow. Alberto Iglesias' fantastic soundtrack is also well balanced with it. Furthermore, there are absolutely no disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review. Finally, according to the booklet provided with this release, the two soundtracks are identical to the theatrical mixes.
Che Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Che: Part One
Commentary - an exclusive commentary by Jon Lee Anderson, chief consultant on Che and author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, which was recorded for the Criterion Collection in 2009. This is indeed an outstanding commentary by Mr. Anderson, who offers a wealth of information on the life of Che and the political climate in South America. His comments on some of the inaccuracies in the film are fascinating.
Making Che - this documentary features interviews with director Steven Soderbergh, actor Benicio Del Toro, producer Laura Bickford, and writers Peter Buchman and Ben van der Veen. (50 min, 1080p).
Deleted Scenes - a selection of deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Steven Soderbergh. In Spanish, with optional English subtitles. (1080p).
Trailer - (3 min, 1080p).
Che: Part Two
Deleted Scenes - a selection of deleted scenes with an optional commentary by director Steven Soderbergh. In Spanish/English, with optional English subtitles. (1080p).
End of a Revolution - in 1967, film producer Brian Moser was in Bolivia, hoping to make contact with Che Guevara. Che was killed before Moser could do so, but Moser was one of the first foreign journalists to arrive at the site of Che's execution. Moser records these experiences in this 1968 documentary, which also looks at the reasons for revolution in Bolivia and the forces dispatched to quell it. It features interviews with then Bolivian president Rene Barrientos, members of the U.S. special forces, and Regis Debray, an intellectual associated with Che in Bolivia. In English, not subtitled. (26 min, 1080i).
Interviews from Cuba - in July of 2009, producer Laura Bickford and actor-producer Benicio Del Toro interviewed a number of participants in and historians of the Cuban Revolution exclusively for this release. In Spanish, with optional English subtitles (36 min, 1080i).
Che and the Digital Cinema Revolution - Che was the first feature to use the RED camera, which director Soderbergh embraced for its versatility and image quality. This short documentary looks at the evolution of the camera during the film's production and at the many ways it has enhanced and altered the process of modern digital filmmaking. (34 min, 1080p).
Poster - Criterion have provided a small poster (a replica of the coverart). Booklet - a 24-page illustrated booklet containing Amy Taubin's essay "Why Che?" as well technical information about this Blu-ray release. (Amy Taubin is a contributing editor at Film Comment and Sight & Sound. She also writes frequently for Artforum).
Che Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This is a wonderful package, and certainly an early contender for a Blu-ray release of the year. The supplemental features are outstanding. Jon Lee Anderson's commentary is one of the best ever to appear on a Criterion release. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Che Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Criterion New Year's Card Hints at Upcoming Blu-ray Titles - January 1, 2010
The Criterion Collection asked resident “wacky” artist, Jason Polan, to help them ring in the New Year. The result is a cryptic e-card that features numerous obscure references to upcoming titles. Members of the blu-ray.com forum and other boards have tried to ...
• Criterion Signs Deal with IFC, Plans Che for December - September 2, 2009
IFC Films has struck an agreement with the Criterion Collection for the release of select titles from IFC's library. The first Blu-ray in the deal was 'Gomorrah', which is slated for a November 24 release, but IFC confirmed Tuesday a larger partnership between ...
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