Che, Part 1: The Argentine is memorable for its reverent treatment of Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. With the jungle scenarios in Che, Part 1, we see the realization of Che’s revolutionary consciousness and the character of Latin American guerrilla warfare. These scenes are interspersed with flashbacks to earlier moments in Che’s friendship with Fidel Castro and the beginnings of his Socialist awareness, as well as flashforwards to his appearance before the UN in 1964. Taken together, this frames the Cuban Revolution around Che’s body and ideas, reifying his status as a revolutionary icon, and in so doing presents a blueprint of revolution by encapsulating and mimicking Che’s manual on guerrilla warfare.
The introductory scene paints a quick picture of the beginning of Che’s revolutionary conscious as actualized by his friendship with Fidel and Raul Castro. In this scene, a young Che sits next to his friend Raul as they and others await Fidel’s entrance before they eat dinner. While eating, Che questions others at the dinner table about the meanings of particular phrases in their discussion of class in Cuba because he is ignorant of the exploitative forces specific to Cuba. Through the depiction of Che’s incipient friendship with Fidel and Raul Castro and his gnawing curiosity, this scene is emblematic of the “context in which Guevara’s revolutionary consciousness crystallized” (Zolov 246).
Perhaps the most important aspect of the film, however, is the depiction of revolution characteristic of Che’s guerrilla method. In his Message to the Tricontinental, Che writes of the guerrilla’s struggle for power, progressing from mere survival to armed propaganda meant to hearten the people. Throughout his manual on Guerrilla Warfare, Che informs of additional steps necessary for effective revolutionary action, most notably though the establishment of bases and expanding effort throughout the countryside via the removal of commanding guerrillas to new theaters of action. Soderbergh’s Che, Part 1, manifestly outlines these steps, giving emphasis to the structure and development of guerrilla warfare as experienced by Che and other Cuban revolutionaries.
The jungle scenes are also notable for giving voice to Che’s emphasis on a pyramidal coalition with other, urban revolutionary forces. Much like Che, Soderbergh makes clear through the presentation of the politics of cooperation that only armed combat will suffice to destroy the imperialist, US-backed army of Batista, echoing the ways in which “the guerrilla is the combat vanguard of the people” (Guerrilla Warfare: A Method).
Steven Soderbergh’s Che, Part 1: The Argentine ends with an eerie reference for Che’s desire to spread and cultivate a pan-American liberation from imperialism. His death in 1968, however, spelled the end of any hope for a unified American proletariat, but his image remains a powerful symbol of international anti-imperialist sentiments and contempt for neoliberalism (Zolov 274). Despite his harshness and occasional cruelty (tempered in the film by the gravity of crimes deserving of execution), Che enjoys “continued resonance as a figure of Latin American ‘purity’” (Zolov 274). In effect, Soderbergh esteems Che as a revolutionary icon and paints a reverent picture of his ascension from meandering bohemian to adored revolutionary Commandante.