Che Guevara: First he took Havana, now he's conquered Hollywood

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Before the jungles of Bolivia swallowed him up, Che Guevara had enjoyed a run of success as a doctor, a revolutionary and, especially in his late career, as a student dormitory poster.

"Che lives!" we of the great unwashed cried in the Sixties, and, more than 40 years after his death, it seems only right that he remains insistently among us – as an idea, a global brand, and, in these times of capitalism's crisis, a useful provocation.

His old pal, Fidel Castro, is still in business in Cuba, new books continue to feed the Guevara legend, and now, lumbering onto the pop-cultural battlefield like some huge, agitprop-lobbing trench mortar, comes Steven Soderbergh's four-hour-plus, two-part Hollywood biopic Che.

The film, starring Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro in the title role, has sharply divided opinion, with grown Frenchmen weeping in the aisles during its first outing at Cannes, while outraged Cuban exiles hurled bottles of habanero salsa at the screen in Miami. Some critics, bemused by its scale and complexity, have taken to calling it The Importance of Being Ernesto.

What's hard to dispute is that the moment could hardly be better for a fresh look at what Che stood for. Faith in existing political systems has been shaken and insurrectionary stirrings are again being felt around the world. Might Ernesto Guevara de la Serna Lynch, with his steely attachment to permanent revolution, have been right after all? The film makes great efforts to avoid answering this question.

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