TWO young men sitting in a kitchen with a small group of others and talking revolution as they eat a meal and drink wine. The scene has probably been played out all over the world and little ever come of it, however, these two men are Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.
Castro and Che first met in Mexico City in 1956 and the following year they sailed to Cuba with just over 80 combatants. Within 18 months they managed to overthrow the corrupt US-backed regime of dictator Fulgenico Batista.
The just-released (in Ireland) Che Part I – The Argentine spends a few minutes dumping information to set the scene and it intercuts the main story with flash-forward scenes to Che addressing the UN in New York in 1964 and explaining to journalists his revolutionary theory.
The main body of the picture is a bit like a war movie with lots of action scenes, gun battles and men marching through jungles but then that is unavoidable in a story about an armed insurrection.
However, there is a gritty reality about these war scenes. We see Che choking as he suffers constant asthma attacks in the humid mountains of the Sierra Maestra, when someone is shot they don’t writhe on the ground in a halo of pyrotechnics. They bleed and die.
The film displays its politics proudly and the action scenes are interspersed with dialogue-driven set pieces where the protagonists talk about the injustices of life under the Batista regime and the theory of building a revolutionary movement.
The filmmakers are firmly pro-Che, he is not a revolutionary for the sake of a scrap. He believes in educating the poor and as a doctor treating those who come to him.
From the mountains and jungles the action gradually moves to small villages, towns and then the city of Santa Clara.
Fidel Castro and his brother Raul move in and out of the action, with Fidel’s appearances usually to set Che some new task that he might not always like but which he obediently carries out and which ultimately helps his development as revolutionary.
Che is portrayed as man who is coming in to his own, developing his revolutionary theory as his popularity among his guerrillas and the peasants who shelter them grows.
From the 80 men who landed with the Castro brother and Che in 1957 the revolution gathers pace with men, women and children queuing to join the rebels.
The rebels are always fair, giving the government soldiers an opportunity to surrender before going in to battle. ‘You will be responsible for the bloodshed,’ Che tells a captain, unless he surrenders.
The government soldiers’ leaders are portrayed as vicious and cowardly - ordering air raids on barrios which the rebels control with no regard for the civilians who live there, sneaking out of an army barracks in civilian clothes but ordering the captain they have left in charge to shoot any deserters.
After seeing the movie I flicked through my copy of Che Guevara A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson and the pictures suggest that the make-up people have done a good job in ensuring that the actors in this film resemble the historic characters that they resemble.
Che Part I finishes on January 2 1959, the day after Batista fled Cuba and the revolutionaries declared victory. Part II - Guerrilla, which will not be released here until next month, will undoubtedly take up with the establishment of communism in Cuba and Che’s attempts to spread the revolution throughout Central and South America and Africa.