In England’s Grauniad, director Steven Soderbergh whines about the damage that his endless two part, 537-hour long Che biopic may have done to his bankability as a film director:
“You know, for a year after we finished shooting I would still wake up in the morning thinking, ‘Thank God I’m not shooting that film.'”
Does he wish he hadn’t done it?
“Yeah. Literally I’d wake up and think, ‘At least I’m not doing that today.'”
Soderbergh knew Che (recently released on DVD in the UK) might be difficult from the start. The project was brought to him by its eventual star, Benicio del Toro, and producer Laura Bickford, during the shooting of Traffic – the drug war docudrama that won Soderbergh the best director Oscar in 2001. Che was essentially Del Toro’s baby and Soderbergh, who was interested in the man but nowhere near as smitten as the actor, approached the movie cautiously, heading into the production with what he describes now as a “pretty significant sense of dread”.
Lack of funding fuelled his fear. And the money wasn’t there partly because of Soderbergh himself. In the characteristically noble pursuit of authenticity he decided to film Che in Spanish, a decision that effectively blitzed any hope of finding significant investment within the US.
“It’s a film that, to some extent, needs the support of people who write about films,” he argues. “If you’d had all these guys running around talking in accented English you’d [have got] your head taken off.”
Eventually European investors were tapped for $58m (£35m) – a paltry figure considering the project’s ambition. As a result Soderbergh was forced to shoot extremely quickly to stay on budget. The two parts were filmed over 76 days, four days fewer than for his glitzy Vegas action comedy Ocean’s Eleven, an $85m capitalist fat-cat of a movie in comparison with Che.
“It’s hard to watch it and not to wish we’d had more time,” he says of Che. “But I can’t tell you that if we’d had more time it would be better – it would just be different. There was an energy and intensity that came out of working that quickly.”
Indeed, Che is easily Soderbergh’s best film since Traffic. But it wasn’t a resounding smash at the box office, grossing about $30m worldwide. Soderbergh blames piracy (“We got crushed in South America. We came out in Spain in September of last year and it was everywhere within a matter of days. It killed it.”) but it probably didn’t help that his film is a foreign-language marathon with an admittedly distant and impersonal lead.
So the director of a film homage to one of the most infamous communists of the 20th century is disappointed that his film lost millions of dollars of potential revenue do to losing control of its intellectual property rights? Irony, you’re soaking in it.
For a much better look at Che, which clocks in at under nine minutes rather than five hours, click here: