Cannes to get first look at films on Wednesday

On Wednesday, Cannes gets its first look at the most talked-about property for sale here: Steven Soderbergh’s two-film, Spanish-language biography of Che Guevara, consisting of “The Argentine” and “Guerrilla.”

Some studios and specialty labels, including Soderbergh’s former home base at Warner Bros., passed on financing the two pics, but buyers are hovering: Some North American distribs are staying in Cannes through Wednesday just to see the two films at their official Competition screening. (One exception is Miramax topper Daniel Battsek, who is flying to Moscow with producer Graham King to watch the European soccer champion league final.)

The two films, which star Benicio Del Toro as the Latin American revolutionary, receive market screenings on Thursday.

Although distributors at Berlin saw 10 minutes of excerpts, mainly from “The Argentine,” the completed work is still unseen.

Studio specialty distribs and the Weinstein Co. have been trying to land an early screening to no avail. WB denies it is in the hunt for the picture.

A pair of two-hour pics about Guevara, in Spanish, could be a tough sell in North America without great reviews and awards attention (advance buzz is good on Del Toro).

According to distribs, Wild Bunch is asking $8 million to $10 million for the U.S.

The French production, distribution and foreign sales company put up 75% of the $61.5 million budget for the two pics, tapping into a production and acquisition fund (amounting to a reported $150 million) from financing and investment company Continental Entertainment Capitol, a subsid of the U.S.-based Citigroup. Spain’s Telecinco/Moreno Films supplied the rest.

“Argentine” and “Guerrilla” have pre-sold many major territories, with distributors meeting substantial asking prices: Deals have gone down for France (Warner Bros.), the U.K. (Optimum), Scandinavia (Scanbox), Italy (Bim Distribuzione, Wild Bunch’s Italo distrib partner) and Japan (Nikkatsu), among others.

Sun Distribution Co. has Latin America; Spanish rights lie with co-producer Telecinco. Twentieth Century Fox has bought Spanish theatrical and vid rights, which could give it a possible leg up in negotiating a North American deal.

Also for sale at the fest are two other two-hour double features: director John Woo’s unfinished $80 million Chinese period epic “Red Cliff” and Jean-Francois Richet’s $80 million biopic “Public Enemy Number One,” based on famed gangster Jacques Mesrine’s prison-penned autobiography.

Two recent double features met different fates at the global box office. Weinstein Co.’s “Kill Bill” from Quentin Tarantino, was split in two and grossed $181 million in 2003 and $152 million in 2004 worldwide. “Grindhouse,” on the other hand, was released Stateside as a double feature from Tarantino (“Death Proof”) and Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”) and earned $25 million and not much better as two features overseas.

(John Hopewell contributed to this report.)

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