Why would the asthmatic scion of a wealthy Argentine clan decide to sacrifice his privileged lifestyle (and, ultimately, in life) in pursuit of spreading Communism through military uprisings? That was the ultimate enigma of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and in the 40 years since he still remains the most hypnotic mystery of revolutionary counterculture.
In the course of this documentary, which was originally broadcast on The History Channel, Guevara’s passions are detailed through very rare newsreel footage and personal photographs. On the surface, the man was the ultimate contradiction: uncommonly sexy yet blithely unconcerned about his poor personal hygiene, financially privileged yet obsessed with the plight of the poor, fervently anti-American but also wildly untrusting of the Soviet Union, willing to spread revolution around the world but totally indifferent to the political situation in his native Argentina.
Despite the input from experts in the Guevara story, including biographer Jon Lee Anderson and CIA operative Felix Rodriguez (who signed off on Guevara’s execution after he was captured by Bolivian soldiers during a failed guerilla campaign), Guevara is still a charismatic cipher. Clearly his passion for Marxist revolution outran his ability to plant the seeds for turmoil (outside of the Cuban revolution, Guevara failed miserably in his military campaigns within civil war-torn Congo and the economically stable Bolivia). Even his relatively brief period of political power (as Fidel Castro’s right hand man in the early 1960s) was little more than a train of economic and diplomatic catastrophes.
Despite considerable shortcomings as a leader, Guevara’s charisma and sex appeal clearly set him apart from the troglodytes who engineered the rise of global communism. If his visage remains omnipresent on posters and t-shirts today, it is strictly because he looks the part of a rebel – the fact he couldn’t live up to the part, as confirmed in this well-researched and fascinating documentary, is another matter.