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"Che, the Argentine" premieres in Mexico City

January 14, 2009 |  9:28 am

Cheexport

There were no rabble-rousing speeches, but Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the film version, was greeted by an eager audience at the nearly full Julio Bracho cinema, which hosted the premier of the first part of Steven Soderbergh’s long-awaited portrait of the Argentine revolutionary last night.

“Che, the Argentine,” got its first Mexican screening on the sprawling campus of Mexico’s most influential university, the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico). The movie has, like all upcoming major releases here in Mexico, been selling for weeks now on stands that deal in pirated DVDs, but there remain those who want to see the film on the big screen. The audience was a mixture of all ages, from amorous teenage couples to unaccompanied gray-haired men, and they received the portrait of the much-adored revolutionary with gusto.

Guevara is popular among the sprawling student population here in Mexico City, where he and Fidel Castro, then an exiled Cuban lawyer, planned their Cuban Revolution over dinner and cigars on July 3rd, 1955. The myth and heroic image of the Argentine have replaced a real understanding of the complex man that he was. His face is often emblazoned across flags and T-shirts during student protests and commonly evoked as a universal symbol of social struggle.

No one left the theater during the two-hour film, which has been derided by some critics for its length. But Soderbergh paid detailed attention to Guevara’s weaknesses as well as his strengths, emphasizing how handicapped he was by his asthma. Both his treatment and Benicio Del Toro's impressive portrayal of the guerrilla fighter avoided over-romanticizing certain moments in the film which are such a vital part of history, such as his United Nations address in 1964, the real version of which you can see here on YouTube.

There was hearty applause at the end of the film, and we asked a few people on their way out what they thought.

Jessica Hernandez, 32, a teaching assistant at the UNAM, enjoyed the movie but said it was lacking a more in-depth portrayal of Che Guevara.

“I didn’t like how there wasn’t more about him, Che himself, and his nature,” she said.

Fernanda Portilla, a 45-year-old employee of the university’s culture department said: “It was too simple in the sense that they painted Che like the good guy and Fidel like the bad guy.... Che was never such a good guy and Fidel never so mean.”

And Ignacio Tlatela, a 39-year-old biologist, commented: “Maybe a lot of people who know about Che Guevara would have found the portrayal very interesting because they know what happened during the revolution, but not between each of the different soldiers.... It also shows a facet of him that we didn’t know -- for example, his asthma and how ill he was.”

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Watch the trailer for the movie below.

Photo: A still from "Che, the Argentine," in which Benicio Del Toro portrays Ernesto "Che" Guevara addressing the UN General Assembly in 1964. Credit: www.cheelargentino.com/

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