Is ‘Che’ This Year’s ‘Southland Tales’?

Courtesy of Cannes

Last night’s Cannes premiere of Che, Steven Soderbergh’s ambitious, four-hour biopic of Che Guevara, seems to have been something of a fiasco. So today, talk among the critics and commentators is split between complaints about the crappy meal everyone got during intermission — a sandwich and a mini–Kit Kat in a brown bag, apparently — and the shaggy and anti-commercial movie that meal interrupted. “No doubt it will be back to the drawing boards for Che,” Variety’s Todd McCarthy writes in the review that most quickly made its way across the online film world. “Neither half feels remotely like a satisfying stand-alone film, while the whole offers far too many aggravations for its paltry rewards.” McCarthy’s Variety colleague Anne Thompson is kinder, though she too views the screening as a disaster; the movie was a “noble failure,” she writes, and she takes issue with Soderbergh’s famously last-minute edits to get the film ready for the festival:

Why don’t these guys ever learn? Remember Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, Wong Kar Wai’s 2046, Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, and Edward Norton’s Down in the Valley? DON’T TAKE AN UNFINISHED MOVIE TO CANNES!!!! Wait. Give the film the time you need.

Thompson isn’t the only one to raise the specter of Southland Tales, which infamously bombed at Cannes and wasn’t released for a year and a half, in a dramatically shorter (and mostly poorly received) version. (Vulture’s review: “Like watching Howard the Duck with a high fever.”) Spout’s Karina Longworth suggests that the four-hour Cannes cut of Che will, “like the Cannes cut of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, never again see the light of day.”

Like Southland Tales, too, Che has its partisans. IndieWIRE’s Eugene Hernandez pronounces himself “among a small core of fans of the films,” even as his site posts a mostly negative review by Glenn Kenny (which does point out that a number of sequences in the films are stunning, including a soon-to-be-legendary train derailment and battle scene in the first half). And Cinematical is the first to go against the prevailing wisdom, posting an out-and-out rave that praises Che for what other reviewers view as problematic: its refusal to embrace biopic tropes. (The film’s current cut, apparently, defiantly fills in few blanks about Guevara’s life and doesn’t even show obviously cinematic moments like the taking of that iconic photograph.) “Bold, beautiful, bleak and brilliant,” James Rocchi writes, “Che’s not just the story of a revolutionary; in many ways, it’s a revolution in and of itself.”

Che [Variety]
Cannes: Che Meets Mixed Response [Thompson on Hollywood]
Cannes: Che Aftermath [SpoutBlog]
in cannes | “che” dinner [eugonline]
The Revolution By Night: Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” [indieWIRE]
Cannes Review: Che [Cinematical]

Is ‘Che’ This Year’s ‘Southland Tales’?