Last movie. Final analysis to come!
Bloody Che Contra
Bloody Che Contra, written by Adriano Bolzoni and directed by Paolo Heusch, is by far the oldest film I have used for this project so far. It was released in 1968 — the year after the execution of Ernesto Che Guevara. This fact was pretty obvious (and a little distracting) throughout the whole of the film: the sound quality was bad, the picture quality was bad, and the acting was bad. For me, the best part was when they tried to speak Spanish — unfortunately, affixing the word “amigo” or “señor” to the end of a sentence does not a Spanish speaker make.
Being a movie created so close in time to the actual event, I expected it to take an extreme position — either entirely supportive of Che, or entirely in condemnation. Since the director and writer are both Italian, it’s difficult to predict which side they would take, given that their nationality does not make them predisposed to a certain opinion.
However, the film seemed to be fairly neutral — at least, not as blatantly biased as some other films I have seen. It catalogued Che’s experience in Bolivia, so the ostensible atrocities Che committed in Cuba were not mentioned, not out of careful omission but out of irrelevance. It did not take long to establish Che as the protagonist of the film, but while he was clearly the “good guy,” there was rarely a moment where he was perceived as a good guy. Let me rephrase: The audience knows that it is supposed to be rooting for Che, but is not impressed with the way he commandeers a civilian’s truck, executes one of his own men, or exploits civilian resources. When mistaken by a young woman for San Rafael, Che responds, “We haven’t much in common with saints.” His harshness is clear throughout the film — his soldiers admit that they rarely hear him laugh — and his personality does not seem to have any redeeming qualities.
I wish I could find more information about the production of this film (it’s so obscure, I could barely find anything) because there are a lot of factual discrepancies whose source I would like to know. In the first scene, Che and his men walk up to a civilian house and commandeer a truck. However, in reality, Che is known to have harshly reprimanded some of his soldiers for stealing a car on their own. Also, there is a character called Simona who plays a significant role in helping the guerrilleros who, as far as I know, never existed. She may have been based on Tania, a woman in Che’s army who played a similar role, but this seems like an inaccuracy that could have easily been avoided, leading me to believe that historical accuracy was not the main purpose of the film. Another difference is the final scene: Che’s assassination. While he is characteristically brave and defiant, his famous last words are omitted, replaced with the words, “I’m ready. Don’t be afraid. I’m ready.” They’re not quite as powerful, but they serve a similar purpose — taking the power away from the Bolivians and the Americans by welcoming his own execution.
Ultimately, Bloody Che Contra does recirculate the dominant narrative that Che is a hero by portraying him as a protagonist — however, I am hesitant to say this because I do not mean to say the film glorifies Che. The movie does nothing to make him seem more glamorous or heroic than he was, but it does portray him as the good guy while portraying the Bolivians and the Americans as the bad guys, which agrees with the dominant narrative. Why? It’s difficult to say with so little information why Heusch and Bolzoni decided to adopt this angle. My guess would be that, from a distance (and Italy is quite a distance), Che looked like a revolutionary. The only ones who saw him as otherwise were the ones who suffered directly from his actions. To the rest of the world, he was a man trying to bring freedom to the people of his nation. The factual inaccuracies of the film make it clear that the material was not particularly well researched, so there really is no reason to believe that Heusch and Bolzoni delved into the details of Che’s darker side.