One tiny, loaded word pretty much summed up Wednesday at Cannes: Che. Steven Soderbergh's two-part, four-hour-plus biopic premiered last night to a sprawling range of reactions, most of which seem to embrace the challenging film (and particularly Benicio Del Toro's performance as the title revolutionary) even while doubting the film would ever again screen again in its current version. Soderbergh and star Benicio Del Toro were only slightly defensive when it came time to face the press:
"I find it hilarious that people always complain about movies being the same, and then when something different comes along — a film that deals the cards in a different way — they say why isn't it more conventional?" [Soderbergh said.]
"There's the painter who did a portrait of a woman, and when she saw it she said, 'It doesn't look like me.' And the painter replied, 'Oh, it will.'" — Benicio del Toro responding more or less to the same.
Deep! Though maybe not deep enough for Todd McCarthy, the Variety grump who held forth with easily the most vicious (and potentially fatal) pan to yet emerge among critics: "Neither half feels remotely like a satisfying stand-alone film, while the whole offers far too many aggravations for its paltry rewards. Scattered partisans are likely to step forward, but the pic in its current form is a commercial impossibility, except on television or DVD." His colleague Anne Thompson agreed, likening Che to previous rough-cut Cannes clusterfucks including Southland Tales, The Brown Bunny and 2046 and scolding: "DON'T TAKE AN UNFINISHED MOVIE TO CANNES!!!!"
But... but... the producers even splurged for a brown-bag dinner during intermission! With Kit-Kats! Anyway, Che has its defenders as well; Kim Voynar thinks it's a Palme D'Or (and maybe even Oscar) front-runner, Jeffrey Wells is over the moon and Glenn Kenny has high praise at indieWIRE:
Che benefits greatly from certain Soderberghian qualities that don't always serve his other films well, e.g., detachment, formalism, and intellectual curiosity. ... Benicio del Toro, despite being ten real years older than anybody playing the part in any period should be (and in fairness to him, let's note that this has been a very LONG gestating process; the original plan had Terence Malick directing with Soderbergh producing, and that was many years ago), works almost demonically at making Che's appeal palpable. But his performance is just a remarkable cog in Soderbergh's meticulous examination of process. Both parts of the film are largely about revolution as a job of work.
We'll indeed see how (or if) revolution works in the months ahead as distributors kick its sizable tires. Meanwhile, a few other long-distance odds and ends from the Croisette:
—Jennifer Lynch — daughter of David, survivor of Boxing Helena and Cannes '08 contributor with the thriller Surveillance — has a word with the LA Times about her checkered past: "I still can't Google myself today." But! "It's great to have fallen flat on my face and to stand up again."
—Guardian critic and infamously grumpy old man Ronald Bergan wants to know what happened to all the "great lost directors" whose careers have faded over the years. We'd empathize, except the mention of lucky hacks John G. Avildsen (Rocky, The Karate Kid) and John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Short Circuit) isn't touching us quite so persuasively.