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At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Benicio Del Toro won “best actor” for his role as Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh’s film glorifying the Argentine-born “revolutionary,” also known by acquaintances as a sniveling coward, an insufferable prig, a military doofus, a Stalinist and a psychotic mass-murderer.
“The U.S. is the great enemy of mankind!” raved Che Guevara in 1961. “If the nuclear missiles had remained, we would have fired them against the heart of the U.S. including New York City,” he boasted to the London Daily Worker in November of 1962. “Against those hyenas there is no option but extermination. The victory of socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims.”
“I’d like to dedicate this to the man himself, Che Guevara!” beamed the Oscar-winning Del Toro upon accepting his Cannes award for “The Argentine” to a thunderous ovation. “I wouldn’t be here without Che Guevara, and through all the awards the movie gets you’ll have to pay your respects to the man!”
At Cannes, Variety’s Todd McCarthy had branded Soderbergh’s movie “defiantly nondramatic” and “a commercial impossibility.” New York Magazine called it, “something of a fiasco.” But this month at the Toronto Film festival, Che finally landed a U.S. distributor, (IFC Films) and is due for a U.S. release in December. The film already premiered in Spain just last week and to predictably rave reviews.
In a recent promotional interview with one of Spain’s top newspapers, Ideal, the Puerto-Rican born Del Toro added a new twist to a familiar boast from many of his Hollywood colleagues. Susan Sarandon, for instance, “threatens” to move to Canada or Italy if McCain wins. Barbra Streisand and Alec Baldwin “threatened” the same during the past two elections regarding a Bush win.
Benicio Del Toro told the Spanish interviewer, “Ideologically I feel very close to Che,” but he’s “indifferent” about the possible rejection by the American public of his role as a Cuban revolutionary.
“Well, if they don’t like it,” snapped Del Toro. “I can always move here to Spain.”
Which is to say: A sufficient number of Americans had better be smitten with a glorification of the murderous Communist psycho who craved to incinerate millions of them in order to usher in a worldwide reign of Stalinism. They’d better thrill to the shoot-em-up exploits of a wimp who delighted in the mass-murder of defenseless men and boys, but who when finally facing even odds against armed enemies in Bolivia whimpered: “Don’t shoot! I’m Che! I’m worth more to you alive than dead!”
If not, well then, Benicio Del Toro will simply wash his hands of his yokel compatriots and move to Europe, where geopolitical sophistication permeates the very air and thus (the coward, idiot, patsy and mass-murderer known as) Che Guevara is properly venerated.
“In Castro,” says Del Toro, during the interview “Che had his mentor and maestro.” But he forgot to add, his killer too. And here’s the pity of this movie. Soderbergh and Del Toro, who along with starring as Che also shares production credits, actually had an intriguing and immensely amusing theme if only they’d known how to plumb it. Soderbergh hails Guevara as “one of the most fascinating lives in the last century.”
Almost all who actually interacted with Ernesto Guevara (and are now free to express their views without fear of firing squads or torture chambers) know that the The Big Question regarding Che, the most genuinely fascinating aspect of his life, is: How did such a dreadful bore, incurable doofus, sadist and an epic idiot attain such iconic status?
The answer is that this psychotic and thoroughly unimposing vagrant named Ernesto Guevara had the magnificent fortune of linking up with modern history’s top press agent, Fidel Castro, who, for going on half a century now, has had the mainstream media anxiously scurrying to his every beck and call and eating out of his hand like trained pigeons.
Had Ernesto Guevara De La Serna y Lynch not linked up with Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City that fateful summer of 1955, had he not linked up with a Cuban exile named Nico Lopez in Guatemala the year before who later introduced him to the Castros, everything points to Ernesto continuing his life of a traveling hobo, panhandling, mooching off women, staying in flophouses and scribbling unreadable poetry.
Not to be outdone in the trained pigeon department, while making their film, Soderbergh and Del Toro repeatedly visited Havana to coo and peck away as anxiously as Herbert Matthews, Dan Rather or Barbara Walters while the Stalinist regime tossed out its propaganda crumbs.
Though rarely meeting with the Maximum Leader himself, the filmmakers, on top of relying on Che’s diaries (edited by Fidel Castro) for the script, also obtained recollections from Che’s widow and many of his former underling executioners. These all currently serve as ministers in a totalitarian regime. “We wanted to show the real character,” boasts Soderbergh. Absolutely no chance of any hanky panky with the historical record from these sources!
“I’m here in Cuba’s hills thirsting for blood,” Che wrote his abandoned wife in 1957. “Dear Papa, today I discovered I really like killing,” he wrote shortly afterwards. Alas, this killing very rarely involved combat; it come from the close-range murder of bound and blindfolded men and boys.
“When you saw the beaming look on Che’s face as the victims were tied to the stake and blasted apart,” said a former political prisoner to this writer, “you knew there was something seriously – but seriously, seriously wrong with Che Guevara.”
In fact, the one genuine accomplishment in Che’s life was the mass murder of defenseless men and boys. Under his own gun dozens died. Under his orders thousands crumpled. At everything else Che Guevara failed abysmally, even comically. Yet Soderbergh and Del Toro skip over these fascinating quotes and Che’s one genuine accomplishment as a revolutionary.
Alas, taking on Fidel Castro as agent has its drawbacks, as former colleagues all attest: “Fidel only praises the dead.” So prior to whooping up his revolutionary sidekick, Fidel Castro sent him “to sleep with the fishes.”
Too bad Soderbergh and Del Toro didn’t interview the former CIA officers who revealed to this writer how Fidel Castro himself, via the Bolivian Communist party, constantly fed the CIA info on Che’s whereabouts in Bolivia. Including Castro’s directive to the Bolivian Communists regarding Che and his merry band might have also added drama. “Not even an aspirin,” instructed Cuba’s Maximum Leader to his Bolivian comrades, meaning that Bolivia’s Communists were not to assist Che in any way “not even with an aspirin,” if Che complained of a headache.
Alas, utterly star struck by their subject and slavish compliance to Fidel Castro’s script and casting calls, all these fascinating plots and subplots flew right over Soderbergh and Del Toro’s heads.
Humberto Fontova is the author of four books including “Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who idolize Him” and “Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant.: Visit Fontova’s website.