What do the Nike swoosh, or the McDonald's "M", or the signature for Coca-Cola all have in common? They're all among the most instantly recognizable brand logos in the world. You can go anywhere-from Times Square in New York to the Congo in Africa, and people will know these logos and be able to tell you with great certainty who they belong to.
And yet, none of these logos have been reproduced or used throughout the world quite as extensively as the photograph of one man, who, even fifty years later continues to mean different things to different people.
"Chevolution" is such an essential documentary because it serves to satisfy the enigma of Che Guevara while at the same time providing a rich emersion into the history of the man, the icon, and the culture that seem to interweave and conflict with syncopation.
For those who do not know the history of Che, the film starts there. It explains how Ernesto Guevara expressed concerns over the Batista rule in Cuba, how he met up with Fidel Castro as the rebels' medic, and how, as if taken from a chapter of 100 Years of Solitude, a string of poorly lost battles somehow culminated in victory that brought the Cuban government as we now know it to power. But we also learn about a man by the name of Alberto Korda, a famed fashion photographer living in Havana at the time. Through circumstances he trades in fashion to become a photo journalist, and this leads to the landmark moment in history when he snaps the photo of Che that will become the world's most replicated picture.
This is one of the reasons why "Chevolution" is so important. Who else would have known that at that exact moment when the photo was taken, Che was in a deep state of sadness and anger, connecting with Cubans over the La Coubre explosion that killed at least 75 people and injured some 200 more? Ask the next person you see wearing a Che t-shirt if they know the circumstances of that photo and see if they know, or if they care. The documentary goes on to address the myths and circumstances that surrounded the photo's release into the public and its subsequent leap into worldwide mainstream politics. We learn interesting little tidbits along the way, like how Korda was likely not paid for his photo when an Italian mogul came through and scooped it up to use on posters for profit, and how Fidel Castro would not allow a copyright on the photo because he didn't believe in copyrights, and how Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick made a seemingly subtle rendition in graphic art form that eventually became the sole standard by which all other variations of the image of Che are created. I can assure you that my descriptions of the film's key moments do nothing to give it the true justice required by watching it.
Was Che the revolutionary who stood for good and justice and the common welfare of all men and women? It sure seems like it, when dozens upon dozens of famous people and regular folks are interviewed on their take of Che, including the likes of Antonio Banderas and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. Ask a thirteen year old boy in suburban England what he thinks, and he plucks away at his electric guitar and decrees that Che was a savior; a man who was against the fascist right wing. Then ask a Cuban American student, and watch him answer with poignant eloquence that Che was nothing more than a blood-thirsty militant hell-bent on overthrowing the government to install a pro-Communist regime. And as everyone in the screening began to applaud, suddenly Che wasn't so cool and Christ-like anymore.
Still, the phenomenon that stems from that one photo has meant so many things to so many people over the years, it's amazing that so few people know much about Ernesto "Che" Guevara the man and the things he stood for historically versus the lore that we are often fed by uneducated buffoons who like to talk a lot. Surely, watching "Chevolution" is enough to give one college credit should such a course exist.
My Grade: A
Running time: 90 minutes
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Gerry Adams, Jon Lee Anderson, Gael Garcia Bernal
Written by Sylvia Stevens and Trisha Ziff
Directed by Luis Lopez and Trisha Ziff