Cannes Film Festival Report: Steven Soderbergh Returns with ‘Che’

It’s one of this year’s most eagerly awaited competition films in Cannes and it almost didn’t make it.

Director Steven Soderbergh was editing to the last minute his epic Che, about the Cuban revolutionary fighter Che Guevarra with Benicio Del Toro in the title role.

Nevertheless Soderbergh, Del Toro and other cast members made the red carpet scene Wednesday night for a screening that had some critics stocking up on eye drops. At nearly four and a half hours (and no credits), plus intermission, Che is the longest film in this year’s competition, which has been planned as two separate films to be released almost simultaneously.

The film is a deliberately slow-paced, low-key epic that drew mixed reaction with many people we talked to afterwards. It is essentially a $60 million-plus art movie some will love and some will hate. And it is using its Cannes launch to try and make a sale to a domestic distributor willing to go out with two Spanish subtitled movies on a long-gone Cuban freedom fighter.

Soderbergh, a past Palme d’Or winner for his breakthrough film sex, lies, and videotape is no stranger to risks in a highly eclectic career with films ranging from the splashy Oceans franchise, Erin Brockovich and his Oscar winning Traffic to cerebral experimental things like Full Frontal and Bubble. He is, however, clearly taking his biggest roll of the dice with Che (as it is known here).

Is what Cannes audiences saw still a work-in-progress? Or will the reaction–which included a seven minute standing ovation (you had to stand at that point, you just HAD to)–land it a big deal and a place in this year’s Oscar race? Del Toro’s intensely quiet and determined turn could gain attention from his fellow actors. He’s also clearly in the hunt for the Cannes best actor prize Sunday night.

Mike Tyson and Sean P. Combs were also among those spotted in the crowd at the screening. A dinner and party at a private villa out of town followed and went well into the late hours.

Five hour screenings or not, no one ever seems to get any sleep in this town.