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Soderbergh's 'Che': A Big Life, In Small Moments
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Soderbergh's 'Che': A Big Life, In Small Moments

Movies

Soderbergh's 'Che': A Big Life, In Small Moments

Soderbergh's 'Che': A Big Life, In Small Moments
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Steven Soderbergh at Cannes i

Director Steven Soderbergh at the Cannes Film Festival, where his film Che had early screenings in 2008. Getty Images hide caption

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Steven Soderbergh at Cannes

Director Steven Soderbergh at the Cannes Film Festival, where his film Che had early screenings in 2008.

Getty Images
Steven Soderbergh i

Smaller Is Better: Steven Soderbergh, who served as his own cinematographer, behind the revolutionary RED camera during the filming of Che. hide caption

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Steven Soderbergh

Smaller Is Better: Steven Soderbergh, who served as his own cinematographer, behind the revolutionary RED camera during the filming of Che.

Huge Film, Little Camera

Soderbergh filmed Che with a lightweight, high-performance digital camera that's the embodiment of state-of-the-art (at least for now). He says many of its ways remain a mystery to him — but it's "the camera I've been waiting for."

Working With The RED
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Benicio Del Toro i

Action Figure: Benicio Del Toro stars as revolutionary Che Guevara in Soderbergh's epic biopic. IFC Films hide caption

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Benicio Del Toro

Action Figure: Benicio Del Toro stars as revolutionary Che Guevara in Soderbergh's epic biopic.

IFC Films

Watch Clips

'The Myth Of The Self-Made Man'

'Ventriloquist'

Steven Soderbergh's two-film, four-hour biopic Che could hardly be called a small-scale undertaking. But the director insists that to help build his portrait of the famous revolutionary Che Guevara, he "wasn't looking for big stuff."

Instead, Soderbergh wanted quiet moments — like "when [Che] is asked if he wants any powder on his face before he goes on TV, and he says no," Soderbergh says. "Then he sees someone else getting powder and he says, 'Yes, I'd like a little.' "

These moments, Soderbergh tells NPR's Melissa Block, bring a larger-than-life figure back down to scale — even though some critics have argued that by glossing over certain episodes, the director has glorified a controversial figure.

Melissa Block: If we think of that image on the T-shirt — how do you make that human?

Steven Soderbergh: Part of the way to do that ... is to show him arriving in New York in his rock-star phase, at the height of his notoriety and fame, and [contrast] that with him lost in the Cuban jungle, suffering from asthma, and have the audience see those two images alongside one another and wonder how they are going to converge.

MB:The main controversy over the film is what's left out: the period after the Cuban revolution, when Che is a prison commander, and there are executions and purges of opponents.

SS: That's what [the scenes in] New York are — that's the point. He is here on his junket, and everywhere he goes people are calling him a murderer and an assassin. ... It's obviously not going to satisfy people who define him entirely by that period. But that's my way of handling it. I think that anyone who looks at the thing from a certain distance can see that my choice ... is driven more by artistic need than it is by political agenda.

MB: Does it run the risk of becoming hagiography, to show just those periods?

SS: I don't know. It doesn't matter to me. ... I have to tell it from his perspective. I'm telling his story, not mine. Obviously I don't believe everything he believes, but I'm making a movie about a believer. ... If I make a movie about John Wilkes Booth and I put you in his experience, that doesn't mean that I support the idea of shooting Lincoln. But my job as a filmmaker is to put you in his skin.

MB: When you're working on a movie like this — two movies, four hours long, about a controversial historical figure, how much are you thinking, "Will audiences like it? Will it sell?" Or do you leave that to Ocean's 19, 20 and 21 to take care of?

SS: No. ... I would only make something that I would want to see. If that's not my criteria, then I'm second-guessing myself. ... I was taught when I was a young age — when I was working with people older than me who were mentoring me, in a way — you are the audience. Anything that you can understand, they can understand.

MB: And does it feel like a very different enterprise, shooting a movie like this and say Ocean's Twelve, Ocean's Thirteen?

SS: No, I have to say, the problem-solving aspect of it is pretty similar to me, whether it's Che or an Ocean's film or a tiny thing I did called Bubble a few years ago. The only difference is the number of people standing around. But the problem — on a day-to-day level — of how to make a scene work is the same.

MB: Really?

SS: Yeah, I promise. Well, you're probably telling more jokes on the set of Ocean's Eleven than you are on Che. But there are times that there is fun to be had, even on a very serious movie.

MB: What was the most fun [you had] on this one?

SS: You mean, was there any fun? No, not really. It was happening so fast. And you had to be careful, too — guns going off, bombs going off. You have to be very, very focused to make sure everything was going safely.

MB: I was watching a clip on YouTube of a Q&A in New York, and the audience is very divided. You hear people shouting, "Che is a murderer." It's 40 years [later], and you have the same thing [happening to you] that you [portray] in your movie.

SS: I like when art can do that. I like when art is about something that gets people animated. I think that's terrific. It doesn't happen very much. ... The filmmaker Jean Renoir made a film called Rules of the Game. ... When it premiered in France, [Renoir] describes watching a man tear his newspaper into strips and light [them] on fire. He hated the movie so much, he wanted to burn the theater down. I remember thinking, "Wow, that's awesome."

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