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Subtle, sparse - and superb

Music composed by

* * * * 1/2

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Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Guerilla Films, LLC review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.

Steven Soderbergh's four-hour, two-part Che is surely one of the most-anticipated films of the late-2008 awards season, with Benicio Del Toro taking the part of everyone's favourite revolutionary and looking especially mean and moody in the process.  Soderbergh's eclectic nature when it comes to composers can sometimes lead to somewhat unsatisfying musical experiences, but in 2006 he elicited a fine score from Thomas Newman from The Good German, and this time he has turned to Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias, whose output in recent years has been unprolific but of consistently high quality (my own favourite being the fantastic Volver).

This soundtrack album, from Varese Sarabande, features music from both parts of the tale.  It's one of the year's strongest, too - a score whose sparse nature is a bit of a trip back 35 years, to when composers like Jerry Goldsmith were bold enough to write this kind of music far more often than happens today.  The opening track, "Ese Hombre Es El Che Guevara", is a microcosmic representation of the interesting duality of the music as a whole - the first part of the track is a dissonant dirge, the second a beautiful guitar theme.  It's the former style that dominates the album, but of course that means the latter is all the more effective when it's used.

There are some killer tracks here.  "Sierra Maestra" features rumbling percussion, vibes and unsettling strings and creates a brilliant effect; "I Want to Take the Revolution to Latin America" is a masterpiece of simplicity, the lightest of touches from the composer having a great effect.  "March" is another fine piece, the composer impressively carrying over the sparse sound onto a slightly larger palette, this time featuring considerably more urgent strings and some brass but the mood remains downbeat.  The finale, "La Giguera, October 9, 1967" packs a powerful punch (I assume that our hero met an untimely end on that day) with a stirring melody being taken over by a powerful dirge, with a sudden ending that knocks your socks off.

Picking out highlights is all well and good, but really this is a score which has been fashioned into a superb album which needs to be listened to in its entirity to fully appreciate (it's not one to stick on your iPod and shuffle around with tracks from other albums in your "Film Score - Cuban Revolutionary Leaders" genre).  The subtlety, the nuance - it's rare in film music these days to find such qualities, rarer still in a comparatively high-profile film.  It's not the sort of album which is likely to leap out at many people on first hearing it, but give it a chance and you're likely to find that it has a real slow-burning nature, taking its time to make its mark but owing to its very careful, delicate nature, certainly getting there in the end.  It's so wonderful to hear a score of this nature - I don't want to overplay the Goldsmith comparison, and there's no score in particular I'm thinking of, but music of this nature is simply so rare in films in 2008 it's a joy to hear it when it's done.  This is certainly one of the year's best albums and I highly recommend it.


  1. Ese Hombre Es El Che Guevara (2:53)
  2. Ten Years Earlier (December 1, 1956) (2:00)
  3. Sierra Maestra (4:59)
  4. Landscape (1:35)
  5. I Want to Take the Revolution to Latin America (2:08)
  6. New York, December 1964 (1:02)
  7. Across Mount Turquino (2:51)
  8. March (2:35)
  9. Some Craziness is Good (3:05)
  10. Luces Y Sombras (2:15)
  11. Ambush (3:44)
  12. Political SKills (2:26)
  13. Military Skills (1:42)
  14. Camino A La Habana (2:02)
  15. Nancahuazu Canyon, March 23, 1967 (2:58)
  16. Doctor Guevara (1:44)
  17. Santa Clara (2:00)
  18. Patria O Muerte (3:54)
  19. La Higuera, October 9, 1967 (5:36)
  20. Balderrama Mercedes Sosa (3:55)
  21. Fusil Contra Fusil Silvio Rodriguez (2:55)