Cannes-o-rama, Day ten: Che invades Cannes
For its unwieldy ambition, sprawling narrative, troubling omissions, possible unfinishedness, bold trust of viewers to grapple with minute details and utter resistance to genre conventions, Steven Soderbergh's Che seems destined to be the most remembered film of this festival—and its combination of audacity and social interest could well put it over the top with the jury. At any rate, simply by virtue of its size, it's made a louder bid for the Palme than any Competition film so far—even though, in four and a half hours, it avoids giving a sense of Che Guevara's life beyond his philosophy and fighting strategy. Benicio del Toro's performance is powerfully reserved.
A genuinely dialectical portrait of the comandante, Che began as two films and now exists in mutually dependent halves—with two tempos, two color schemes and even two aspect ratios. (The films need to be seen together; as my roommate pointed out, intermission arrives just as the first half is becoming dramatic.) The more frenzied part one covers Che's role in the Cuban Revolution, focusing mostly on the period from 1956 to 1959; the second half concerns his attempts to foment revolution in Bolivia in 1966 and 1967—the same basic process, but with a less motivated populace and a markedly different result.
This is Soderbergh's most avant-garde picture, and although there are already calls for re-editing—the first half, in particular, throws an enormous amount of nonchronological information in the audience's lap—the Cannes version deserves to be preserved; to cut the movie would diminish the sense of Soderbergh's sheer obsession with the material. It is a fair criticism that the movie unduly elides, among other things, the brutal injustices that Che committed in Castro's government, even if they aren't in a period covered by the film. The source of Soderbergh's interest appears to be exclusively in the nuts and bolts of guerrilla revolution—educating civilians, recruiting soldiers, finding food, cooking a pig and so on. If focusing so relentlessly on apparent minutiae can sometimes be alienating, it's also what makes the movie such an attention-grabber.
In part because Che is so divisive, a lot of critics I talked to are still betting on Waltz with Bashir (at right) to win Palme. Who starts these rumors? The jury isn't talking, and Waltz with Bashir hardly seems like a film that people will be watching five years from now. If anything, Cannes 2008 may be remembered as the festival where no one could agree. As of today, no film had cracked a three-star average in the Screen Daily standings. And although Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale is probably the most universally admired movie, Sean Penn implied at his press conference that his jury would look for a film with a sociopolitical edge. (Clint Eastwood's Changeling fits that bill, incidentally, although reaction seems evenly divided between "best film since Unforgiven" and "turd.")
Briefly: Despite my high hopes, Atom Egoyan's Adoration (acquired by Sony Classics) turns out to be an undisciplined mess of convenient family secrets and quasi-religious melodrama, spiced up with a half-assed critique of modern technology. The moral: Um...don't encourage your teenage student to spread lies about his father on the Internet? More tomorrow, perhaps.
TOC at Cannes icon: Nadine Nakanishi