Film Music: Che

Alberto Iglesias wrote the original music for Steven Soderbergh's "Che", the double length biopic about Argentine revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara staring Benicio del Toro. The film, being shown in 2 parts, has been receiving rave reviews. Part II hasn't arrived in the UK yet, so I can only comment about the music for Part I.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959, led by Fidel Castro, was a huge turning point for Cuba and its relations with the US. 'Che' Guevara was instrumental in the revolution and the relationship of Cuba with the rest of the world. His memoirs of the period are what Soderbergh used as a reference for his film.

Post revolution was also a huge turning point for many Cuban musicians as many of the night clubs and music establishments that catered to the US tourist and servicemen were shut down, the focus of music was shifted from Cuban Latin styles to classical music and many musicians fled the country to find a place where their freedom of expression would be more accepted. So, while post revolution was a time of significant change for Cuban music, Cuba has such a strong sense of style, it rather surprised me to find Alberto Iglesias didn't use anything recognizably Cuban.

There are moments where Che is moving through the jungle that sparse flute and drum are used, rather giving the effect of perhaps tribal or indigenous music. Other times, during the battle scenes, there are booming orchestral segments. Neither of these had anything resembling the vast array of Cuban styles in Latin rhythms. As the credits scrolled I listened to many of the "themes" replay and sat shocked at the lack of Cuban feel to the film.

In some of his previous films, "The Kite Runner" (2007) and "Volver" (2006) the music was spectacular. "Volver" very much has a Spanish feel capturing the small town rough cafe music one might hear from the culture represented in the images. "The Kite Runner" was another film where the music captured the culture extremely well, using flute, voice, middle eastern instruments and drums to highlight the images on the screen. However, "Che" doesn't feel Cuban, nor does it feel "Argentinian" or Latin American in any way, save perhaps the tribal/primal flute segments. By not capturing the Cuban feel, the film could have been set anywhere.

Perhaps Soderbergh and Iglesias wanted to create a timeless, universal feeling to the film. Well, they failed. They failed to give us any sense of who Che was and the culture he was in. The shifting of events in time, jumbled movement from 1964, to 1962 to 1956 to 1958/59 combined with the lack of any Cuban feel to the music left me with no more real understanding of the person of 'Che' than I had going in.


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