Che Guevara Parts I and II are not intended as entertainment in the accepted meaning of the word. Although the story of both films is well known and documented, I found part one, how he helped Castro into power in Cuba, engaging and informative, but Part II which I saw at the Cineworld Trocadero in London last Saturday was depressingly informative, but dare I admit, I found boring. Whether it was intentional or not, and the film is said to be based on his Bolivian diaries, the second feature is an object lesson in the problem which all those who become revolutionaries experience, they cannot cope with the responsibilities of power and in his case being a father and husband, and destroyed his reputation by going off an irresponsible and doomed escapade. I have now seen three films about his life. The first the Motorcycle Diaries was excellent because it went a major way to explaining how he became a violent revolutionary despite his training as a medical doctor. He witnessed at first hand poverty, persecution and injustice. It did not completely explain the depth of his commitment which according to his father originated from his family ancestry which combined Irish Republicanism with Basques separatism. His lifelong asthmatic breathing problems may have also been a cause.
His experience as a doctor will have revealed to him the limitations of helping people who were dying from treatable malnutrition and curable illnesses and that the cause was not God’s wrath or divine plan but because of the greed and indifference of some men. His educated background and social position would have also convinced that the men who held and used their power would not respond to public calls for change and lasting reforms without being confronted by violent force. There were a number of reason why his small band of under 90 guerrilla fighters who came to Cuba were so successful. They had a disastrous start with three quarters being killed in their first encounter with Baptista force. And this eliminated whatever conflicts Guevara possessed between his Hippocratic oath as a doctor and blood letting as a guerrilla. They were fighting a regime that was not only internally evil and corrupt had become the agents for United States gangsterism immorally supported by the USA government blinded because of his understandable concern about having a soviet supporting and supported regime on its doorstep. It was a regime which lacked popular support and where the rank and file of the military were only too willing to changes sides given the opportunity. Perhaps the most important factor of all is that the revolution was led by a Charismatic Cuban. However it also should be recorded that the Castro regime was as ruthless as Baptista and other tyrants in history, brutally persecuting, including torturing and killing, anyone who dissented or whose lifestyle was objected to, homosexuals is one example. When he established support from the Soviets and insisted on a one party communist style socialist party state, the die was cast for ongoing confrontation with the USA and democratic countries in general. Although not a national Guevara held several offices of state and was highly regarded, married and his second wife bore four children. He had another by his first wife.
The two films Che I and II do not cover the disastrous venture into Africa and the Congo where he was warned by the sympathetic Egyptian President and former Colonel, Nasser that failure was likely. Because, and interestingly, Castro had released Che’s letter intended to be published only on his death, explaining why he had left Cuba, suggesting Castro did not want him back. Che felt he
could not return to Cuba.
There was some preparation before he went to Bolivia although I am not sure if the claim in the film that there was five year’s in planning and early action is accurate. Land was purchased so that the fifty strong group could train before engaging in successful fights with the military regime. However what Guevara miscalculated was the assumption that the USA would stand aside whereas a specialist training unit was sent to the area and supplied weaponry. His second major failure was to assume that he would be supported by the Communist party of Bolivia and other dissident groups in that country and that they would accept his military leadership because of his success in Cuba. They did not and why he did not establish this position before going is difficult to understand.
There was also the problem that his ruthless disciplinary approach towards his own men did not endear him to the population and would be recruits. In this he is typical of those of those who fail to grasp that what works in one set of circumstances is unlikely to work in different. It is interesting that when his radio equipment failed cutting himself off from communications with Cuba, there was no attempt by the Cubans, as far as I have been able to check, to make further direct contact and establish his position and needs. This suggests to me that Castro was only too well aware that Che’s position in Cuba posed a constant threat to his regime if the two fell out. It is also factual that despite ordering the local force led by ‘Tania’ a soviet agent, not to make direct contact she does so and thus provides a trail for Bolivian forces to follow. The film is a slow track of the inevitability of his capture and execution and the killing of the other insurgents. The film destroys his reputation in just about every respect.
Afterwards I wanted something to raise my spirits and after missing the start of the play On the Waterfront and reconsidering watching the live friendly game between England and Slovakia, I decided to go and see the film about the life of Brian Clough. I had looked up and made a note of films times at the Cineworld Wandsworth but on arrival found that I had made a mistake. I therefore decided to watch the second Clive Owen film within a matter of days (the International being the other) although with reservations. It was billed as a comic caper and some of the good size audience did enjoy some of the intended humour.
Duplicity has one of the most convoluted plots ever to be screened. Steven Spielberg is reported to have needed to take the script back to his advisers and have them explain the story to him before turning it down, At one level the plot is a simple one. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are unscrupulous, lying and cheating individuals, who have worked for MI6 and the CIA for years, a job which they appear ideally suited, who decided they want to get out and lead a millionaire life style together and which will involve about $40 million. This is this first flaw because these days one needs upwards of £100 million to have the kind of lifestyle they have experienced and want unless they are content to spend the capital and give nothing to their respective families. It is typical of this genre of a film that the two have no family of any kind or friends. The second aspect of this genre is that the agents are not killers or move in the world of killers but are confidence artists and intelligence operatives.
During the film it is evident that they are going to fail because they are so bad at what they do. Clive lets Julia con him and they fail to take the basic precautions so that everything they do and say is being monitored by their new employers who they intended to deprive of the funds in question. It is therefore not at all surprising that that are then served a coup de grace be the very people they plan to rob.
There are two sub plots, in a manner of speaking. The first is that they go to work for two competing business men in the same market, same lifestyle’s down to identical jets, ego’s and approaches, These two are played by the excellent Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson who do their best but whose characters are equally unbelievable but who are clever intelligent. They do have the resources and net work support of intelligence and security people appropriate for their roles as international business operations and who clearly attended the same kind of international course which I participated in the mid 1980’s in which the value of characters like Clive Owen and Julia Roberts was discussed and how to manage them including eliminating them from the organisation when their usefulness has been sufficiently exploited or they do something which could or does harm the organisation.
The second sub plot is of greater interest. The question posed is whether it is possible for two such personalities to have a sustained loving relationship. On my course we were provided with information about the coupling between different management personalities which could work and those likely and even destined to fail. In the film we are shown various interactions in retrospect on a tour of different locations around the world. This aspect is confusing because the flashbacks have little or connection with the scene before their introduction or if they do it is not immediately comprehensible to people like me (or Mr Spielberg). However what is good is the two interact and on one hand try to outsmart each other but also hunger for a meaningful long term relationship with someone who they can respect and who understands and accepts them as they are. Don’t we all ?
I managed to fall asleep briefly but this did not affect either my bewilderment or amusement at some of the dialogue.