UPDATE: 09/10/08: IFC ultimately purchased the domestic rights to Che, not Magnolia Pictures. It will run for one week in December, and then be released in January via on-demand.

Word from the TIFF via the NY Post is that Steven Soderbergh‘s $60 million 4-hour-plus Che Guevara biopic, Che, has finally been picked up by Mark Cuban’s Magnolia Pictures for a U.S. theatrical release. Take note: the company has chimed in and called the deal “premature,” though no denials have been issued. If so, we’ll update accordingly.

It’s speculated online by the NYP‘s Lou Lemnick and others that Magnolia will release the film—re: not films?—this December to qualify for the Oscar race. So, this means Che, or its two-part presentation, The Argentine and Guerilla, will not likely hit theaters in 2008 beyond NYC and L.A. However, Lemnick does hear that they’re “already booking theaters.”

Until now, many speculated that HBO would pick up the (so far) moderately divisive Benicio Del Toro-starrer for an exclusive premiere on television. Slashfilm’s editorial crew has remained hopeful of a theatrical release since Cannes. Peter favored a release for Che, while I thought the film would find more eyes and exposure as a two-part event a la Kill Bill. Of course, we’re talking four hours of heavy subtitles and history not generally taught in American high schools, so it’s a challenge either way. I do hope Magnolia targets demographics beyond the prestige-pic crowd.

Discuss: Would you prefer to see Che with an intermission or released separately as two parts? Do you think the film’s box office chances are nil? How should Magnolia market the film to get the biggest audience?

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Che

Today, director Steven Soderbergh‘s four hour subtitled Che Guevera biopic, Che (presented as two films entitled The Argentine and Guerilla) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Online, critical reception is already momentously loud and divided, in a “Here we go…” way. And as you might expect, the film(s)’s questionable commercial prospects and controversial depiction of the Argentine revolutionary, as played by an uncanny Benicio Del Toro, have some critics waiting it out and chatting about the terrible sandwiches given at intermission instead. However, Cinematical‘s Kim Vonyar is incredibly stoked on both films and believes that Soderbergh is a lock for the festival’s top prize, the Palm d’Or

“Consensus among many of the very smart people I know here at Cannes (well, except for Variety, apparently) is that Che will almost definitely win the Palm d’Or, and if Benecio del Toro doesn’t win the Best Actor Oscar come January, there’s something wrong with the world.”

Stunned by Soderbergh’s DV auteurism, Cinematical’s James Rochhi observed in the first full-length review around, that the biopics’ style, tone, character study and story choices are all open for heavy debate (umm, that’s cool, I agree with him), but says that Oscar talk for Del Toro is also certain. In summation, he proclaims…

“Bold, beautiful, bleak and brilliant, Che’s not just the story of a revolutionary; in many ways, it’s a revolution in and of itself.”

Put that in your pipe, eh? Sounds sweet. In his own way, Jeffrey Wells has stepped out as one of the first supporters/gushers of both films, calling The Argentine “brilliant” and Guerilla “killer.”

“[The Argentine] is what I’d hoped for and more. The tale is the tale, and it’s told straight and true. Benicio del Toro‘s Guevara portrayal is, as expected, a flat-immersion that can’t be a “performance” as much as…I don’t know, some kind of knock-down ass-kick inhabiting. Being, not “acting.” No sentimentality, very straight. Oh, God…the second half is starting right now…”

Note the phrase, “it’s told straight and true,” because many historians, college students, Cubans, critics and Slashfilm readers (I’m predicting…) will inevitably take issue with Soderbergh’s decision on what to leave out and what to include from the man’s combative, violent life and ethos. Another reason why these subtitled films are a hard sell. Variety’s Anne Thompson [no linkage] doesn’t dive into the films’ politics, but she was nonetheless underwhelmed and glum. She believes the majority of the press on hand reacted similarly…

“‘A folly.’ ‘A mess.’ ‘Great.’ These words came from some of the critics coming out of Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour 18 minute Spanish-language Che Wednesday night. At the end there was slight applause; no boos. My own description: noble failure.”

She adds that “Benecio [sic] del Toro gives a great performance…” but she’s particularly down on the direction of the second film, Guerilla, saying, “Soderbergh isn’t interested in the things that compel moviegoers to engage with characters: drama, psychology, motivation. He doesn’t dwell on the relationship between Che and Castro. He doesn’t tell you how ‘Ernesto’ turned into ‘Che.’” This works against the frenetic industry buzz that Spoutblog has thoroughly documented; that site points out that the films are being pitched to buyers separately…

“Rumor has it that the second half of the story is currently in better shape than the first; it remains to be seen what would be lost if half of Che was demoted to straight-to-DVD.”

Please, let’s hope this doesn’t happen. I don’t think the Interwebs (or Che) could survive the weight of so many blog tears and life-hating, unedited diatribes. We’ve posted a new video clip from Che (The Argentine half) below. It doesn’t reveal much, but it gives you an idea of the camera work and Soderbergh’s depiction of jungle warfare. One thing is for sure, Che’s t-shirt posse won’t be going away anytime soon (feh!).

Discuss: How do you think these films will be shown domestically? How does one sell four hours of Che? Honestly, who cares, it’s fantastic these films were even made (for $65 million) no matter how you feel (or don’t) about the man in question or how good they are.

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