Soderbergh's Guevara film debuts at Cannes

Steven Soderbergh’s two-part Che Guevara opus was the most-anticipated pic in competish coming into Cannes; who would pick up the U.S. rights was arguably the biggest question on festgoers lips.

Wednesday night’s world preem, however, only raised even more questions about what lies ahead for the four-hour-plus epic.

Pic bowed to a mixed reception, with concerns over the its 258-minute running time and unconventional dramatic structure voiced as early as the intermission between “The Argentine” and “Guerrilla.”

Most critics agree that Soderbergh’s two films, while possessing admirable creative ambition, pose significant challenges to any U.S. release.

Some sources have suggested that Wild Bunch, the French financing, sales and distribution company that put up majority of coin for the $60 million project, had already been pressing Soderbergh to cut back its running time prior to its preem.

Wild Bunch execs were unavailable for comment Thursday.

Prior to the preem, Soderbergh had been talking about the need to add material to his seemingly exhaustive work.

“Even though we’ve made two parts we still haven’t shown everything,” Soderbergh told reporters just before the Wednesday preem. “There’s actually another movie, I think, to be made about what happens between these two parts but we didn’t have enough money.”

With the post-screening clamor for Soderbergh to go back to the editing suite and trim the two films down into one single, shorter entity, the helmer is sticking to his guns, at least for the time being.

“The process of editing was intense,” Soderbergh said Thursday. “The further you get into it, you need context. That’s why you need two movies.”

Ironically the underwhelming critical response may even end up helping the project’s commercial prospects if Soderbergh does decide to go back and reduce the hefty running time.

The print that preemed at Cannes did not have any end credits, suggesting the current version remains a work in progress.

And while Wild Bunch execs still need, and remain confident of getting, a significant U.S. deal to cover their own substantial financial investment, pic has already pre-sold widely to a number of major territories, including the U.K.

Those buyers were remaining bullish despite the doomsayers.

“It is a unique and ambitious project and we will be working on a similarly ambitious and creative release campaign to bring the story to as wide an audience as possible,” U.K. distrib Optimum’s managing director Danny Perkins told Variety. “We have always seen this as two films and we think that the piece will work really well in this format, with ‘The Argentine’ and ‘Guerrilla’ working as individual releases, probably four to six weeks apart.”

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