Ernesto Che Guevara, The Bolivian Diaries

"Movie Magazine International" Review

(Air Date: Week Of 01/22/97)

By Mary Weems

The documentary film "Ernesto Che Guevara: The Bolivian Diary", answers an important question about world politics: Why did Marxism fail? Answer: Boring. At least that's how this 1994 movie, based on Che Guevara's diary covering his guerilla activities in Bolivia, and on eye-witness accounts, makes it seem.

Hey, I don't mean to irreverent about Che himself -- I think he genuinely cared about improving the lives of the downtrodden, working for revolution, first in his home country, Argentina -- see Antonio Banderas in Evita for a glossy, air-brushed version of Che's early years. He joined Fidel Castro in Cuba to overthrow the dictator Batista, and served as Cuba's Minister of Industry. But, critical of the Soviet Union, and more interested in revolution than statesmanship, in 1965 he left to aid an insurrection in Zaire. When it failed, he went to Bolivia, which in 1966 seemed ripe to be the focus of a continent-wide revolution.

Swiss director Richard Dindo's documentary of this period, culminating in Che Guevara's execution by the Bolivian army, is remarkable for making the incendiary subject seem totally humdrum. A tall order, but he succeeds. Reverentially hushed voiceovers intone Che's lines, such as: I am now 39, and am reaching the age when I must think about my future as shoes a guerilla; and : I lost my shoes in the river, am now wearing sandals, and I don't particularly enjoy it. A brisk and jaunty reading would give the words force and immediacy, but, read in the style of the last rites, they sound trivial.

The camera's no help -- it makes slow sweeps of desolate landscape, river beds, and railroad tracks that look like the same footage spliced in over and over. The camera also lingers reverently on grainy photos, and the turning pages of a calendar with the days of the week in German. Editing, any one? Add in the baying of dogs and yawling of roosters, and revolution seems very dreary.

Against this backdrop, the rivalry between Che and a local Bolivian revolutionary leader, and Che's asthma as he traipses along endlessly at high altitudes, seem comical. Did the director secretly want to make a parody?

Sorry, Ernesto Che Guevara: The Bolivian Diary, is recommended for only the diehard Marxist or Che Guevara fan.

Copyright 1997 Mary Weems

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