on June 21, 2011
Fascinating 5 hour plus, 3 part film about Carlos the Jackal (although
he never actually called himself that) the headline grabbing terrorist
of the 70s and 80s.
With little exposition, we're dropped into a whirlwind of violence,
self-aggrandizement, sexual seduction, and power games, moving at an
almost dizzying speed. The film allows us to slowly figure out Carlos,
instead of explain him in a simple facile way.
While never sympathetic, somehow the amazing Edgar Rameriez allows us
to feel for this id and ego driven creature, powered far more by the
need for attention and adulation (whether from women or the press) than
by true belief. Indeed, one of the most interesting things about the
film is how (intentionally) shallow and hollow Carlos's political
The last 1/3 is the slowest and hardest to sit through. Carlos's slow
decline into ineffectiveness and unimportance is sometimes patience
trying. But Rob Nelson, in his excellent Village Voice review makes a
strong argument that this is 1) unavoidable after the high paced rush
of the first two parts and 2) part of the point of the film; without
his fixes of women and power there wasn't much to Carlos, and without
them both he and we want it to be over.
This is a film I'd like to see again. While I don't quite agree (yet)
with the many critics who have hailed this as of the best films of last
10 years, I do think it's a challenging, brilliantly acted, wonderfully
made film, that gives context both to modern terrorism and recent world
history. Add to that, an exploration of the blurring fine line between
power and uncontrolled narcissism that seems to dog leaders (especially
male) of all political stripes from Hitler to Bill Clinton to George
Bush to Carlos.
That's a lot to successfully cover, even in 5 hours.
More than any other film in 2010, Olivier Assayas "Carlos" has made the rounds. This comprehensive biopic about renowned Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (also known as Carlos) has swept the globe in various editions at various lengths. Shown on the film festival circuit (Cannes, Telluride, New York) largely intact and running over 5 hours, there is also an international film version (or more than one) clocking in at about 3 hours, a U.S. film presentation in two parts, and there is the U.S. television mini-series presentation (by Sundance Channel) that came with three distinct parts and ran about 5 and a half hours. For the purposes of this discussion, I will be referencing the U.S. mini-series presentation because, at least in length, it seems to be the definitive and comprehensive version and the edition Criterion is covering in the Director's Approved release. However, we in the U.S. still seem to be confused about whether we call this a film or a TV event with Golden Globe and Screen Actor Guild nominations in the TV categories but the Los Angeles and New York film critics distinguishing "Carlos" in the film classification. In the end, however, it's all really semantics--I just wanted to make a big deal as there are many different versions of the film floating on the international DVD market. Criterion is bringing forth the full length film that Assayas envisioned.
Telling the story of Carlos, better known as "The Jackal" (even though the screenplay never acknowledges this nickname), the film has much to say about the rise of terrorism and its evolution into the modern political structure. I really do think "Carlos" is well served by the separation in the three part presentation. Part One chronicles the birth of a legend, so to speak, as Carlos works in London and Paris under the auspices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Having been raised by a communist father and trained in guerilla warfare tactics, Part One really covers a lot of ground as Carlos tackles many big operations and bombings to make a name for himself. But as authorities get too close, Carlos soon flees Paris after murdering several policemen. Part Two is focused on the daring 1975 OPEC raid that is perhaps the most notorious of Carlos' well-documented exploits. His mercenary life begins as a result of his new found notoriety, and he starts taking assignments on contract. Part Three focuses more on the wind-down of Carlos' career. As the world climate changes, it becomes increasingly unclear whether Carlos will be able to navigate these new challenges.
The centerpiece of "Carlos" is the charismatic Edgar Ramirez. Ramirez turns in a star making performance as the passionate, aloof, tempestuous, and charming Carlos. Through the years of his life, Ramirez expertly captures the change in tone and well as the psychological and physical shifts within Carlos' life. It's a big responsibility, but Ramirez never misses a beat. The mini-series event itself is a bit uneven, for me. Part One has so little exposition about what is happening that if you don't come into the film with some pre-existing knowledge of the world's political climate circa 1970, you may be a bit lost. You go quickly from assignment to assignment without much look at a bigger picture, and this held me at a distance from the goings-on. Part two, however, is an extremely focused look at one event and, as such, is one of the most riveting docu-dramas I've seen this year. With the Part Three wind-down, we're still emotionally connected to Carlos but the fever-pitch momentum of Part Two is missing (by necessity).
Overall, this is a serious and rewarding film especially for those with an interest in the topic. Charting the life of terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez for over twenty years in such detail is an ambitious goal, and Assayas is up to the task. But almost as interesting as Carlos' life is to see the landscape of terrorism evolve through those years. In truth, I didn't love every bit of "Carlos" as an entertainment, for the above stated reasons, but Part Two and the raid of the OPEC offices is easily one of the most memorable films I've seen this year! KGHarris, 12/10.
Preliminary Criterion Specs:
New digital transfer, supervised and approved by directors of photography Denis Lenoir and Yorick Le Saux, with DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition
New video interviews with director Olivier Assayas, Lenoir, Le Saux, and actor Édgar Ramírez
Twenty-minute making-of documentary on the film's OPEC raid scene
Original theatrical trailer
PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critics Colin MacCabe and Greil Marcus, plus biographies on selected historical figures portrayed in the film, written by the film's historical adviser, Stephen Smith
on October 2, 2011
Carlos is a towering achievement, a fascinating study of a man who was a reflection of the times in which he lived in and is embodied by Edgar Ramirez's powerful performance spanning several decades.
The first disc includes a theatrical trailer.
The second disc starts off with "Shooting the OPEC Sequence," a 22-minute featurette examining how Olivier Assayas shot Carlos and his team's raid on the OPEC headquarters on December 21, 1975. The director offers his thoughts on what he hoped to achieve with the film over the footage of the cast and crew working on location. This extra provides some insight into his working methods.
There is an interview with Denis Lenoir, one of the film's two cinematographers. He shot the second half of Carlos and talks about his approach towards the job. He didn't prepare much for the film because he came in halfway through and goes into some of the technical aspects (i.e. film stock, lighting, etc.). Lenoir also talks about how Assayas works.
Lenoir also provides a selected-scene commentary, going into detail about the technical aspects of six scenes from the film. For example, he mentions the kinds of lenses he used, the lighting scheme and whether he used hand-held cameras or not.
The third disc features a 43-minute interview with director Olivier Assayas. He gives his take on Carlos and the times that shaped the man. The filmmaker talks about his intentions for the film. He admits that it did not originate with him because he would've considered to complicated a task to undertake and was actually approached to direct. Assayas talks about growing up during Carlos' heyday and also about making the film itself.
There is also a 20-minute interview with actor Edgar Ramirez. He was drawn to the film because it dealt with the mechanics of terrorism and politics. The actor speaks eloquently about his take on Carlos and how the OPEC raid defined him. Ramirez talks about how he prepared for the role, including all kinds of research as well as gaining and then losing weight for the various periods of Carlos' life.
The fourth and last disc starts off with "Carlos: Terrorist without Borders," an hour-long documentary that aired on French television in 1997. It fleshes out many of the events depicted in the film and provides some background into Carlos' politics as well as his rise in prominence. The doc mixes compelling news footage (including actual footage of Carlos) with talking head soundbites to paint a fascinating portrait of the man.
Also included is a 1995 interview with Hans-Joachim Klein, the German left-wing militant that was conducted by Daniel Laconte who went on to help produce Carlos. Most interesting, Klein wears a disguise and talks about how he must lie on a daily basis lest he be discovered by those who want to get him. At times, he comes across as more than a little eccentric.
Finally, there is "Maison de France," an 88-minute documentary about the 1983 bombing of the Maison de France in West Berlin that was orchestrated by Johannes Weinrich for Carlos. It puts the incident in context with the political climate at the time. There is pretty gripping news footage of the bombing and the location is revisited in recent years to see how it has changed.
"Carlos" is an ambitious project undertaken by director Olivier Assayas, who also co-wrote the film for French television, that spans about 20 years in the life of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, otherwise known as "Carlos", the infamous leftist terrorist from Venezuela who made a name for himself in the 1970s by leading a raid on an OPEC conference in Vienna in which several delegates were killed. The film ran about 5 1/2 hours on French TV, but Assayas shot this as if for the big screen, in widescreen on 35mm film. It has a sweep and a beauty, thanks in part to cinematographers Yorick Le Saux and Denis Lenoir, not associated with television. The lighting is beautiful. I love the way "Carlos" looks.
The film follows Carlos' life in England, France, Germany, Hungary, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan from 1973 to 1994, when he was captured by a French intelligence operation in Khartoum. He's currently serving a life sentence in a French prison for the 1975 murders of 2 DST agents. Carlos wanted to join an armed struggle against what he saw as capitalist imperialist powers determined to disenfranchise or oppress the masses. He didn't think that toppling the odd dictator in South America accomplished very much. He wanted an internationalist revolution against the Western powers that be. That did bring him fame, but, predictably, he was manipulated more than he was manipulator.
In a way, it seems inappropriate to dedicate so much of the screen to a man whose celebrity was created by a press looking for an obvious villain with whom to tar the law-abiding leftist activists in Europe. A narcissist who was more than happy to believe his own press, Carlos fit the bill perfectly. But Carlos was a character who could not have existed in any other time. He claimed to represent the "Armed Wing of the Arab Revolution". He worked for Wadie Haddad of the PFLP for a while, who in turn worked for the KGB, after Haddad had broken with George Habash and, disastrously, decided to take the fight for Palestine to Europe. Later, Carlos became outright mercenary.
Carlos was able to get away with so much, because he found protection in Yemen, Eastern Europe, and East Germany during the Cold War. He was useful to the Soviets and tolerated by the Eastern Bloc. Once the Cold War ended, he was not even safe in Sudan. Before the OPEC raid in 1975, Carlos needed the support of militant groups or anti-Western governments to provide him with arms and training, but he had some control over his destiny. After the OPEC raid, he could only find refuge by outright selling his services to governments friendly with the Soviet Bloc. He could only react to his circumstances and wheel and deal to survive; he could not longer be proactive.
"Carlos" aired in 3 parts, which Criterion has put on 3 separate discs. The first part covers the events leading to the shootout on rue Toullier in Paris, which killed the 2 DST agents. The second part covers the OPEC raid and its aftermath. The third part spans the years 1979-1994, when Carlos and his group, consisting of German Johannes Weinrich (Alexander Scheer), Syrian Kamal al-Issawi (Talal el-Jurdi), and Carlos' wife Magdalena Kopp (Nora Von Waldstatten), were always looking for a country to shelter them and jobs that would pay well. The first part feels longer than it is. The second part is well-paced. I felt the third part contained too much extraneous material.
So the pacing is uneven. "Carlos" is part character study, part action movie, part political history. Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez was a godsend. He effectively projects Carlos' energy that is at the same time charismatic, destructive, and self-destructive. He embodies Carlos' narcissism, his darkness, and his lust for life. And Ramírez, son of a diplomat, speaks Spanish, English, French, German, and Italian. Carlos was similarly gifted with languages and spoke fluent Arabic as well. Ramírez has done the Arabic phonetically. The film is in English, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, with a little Russian and Hungarian. Subtitles are in English.
Ilich Ramírez Sánchez has challenged the accuracy of the film, in particular of the guns blazing during the OPEC raid. I wondered about that myself. Did these people really waste bullets and make as much noise as possible? Some conversations that took place in Europe are realistic, because they were recorded by intelligence services at the time. But I wonder what Wadie Haddad actually said about Carlos, or if he is being made to articulate the writers' observations. "Carlos" is an accomplishment, but there are some pacing problems in the first part, editing problems in the third, and I wish it said more about Carlos' image in the press and been more explicit about the powers that used him.
The DVDs (Criterion Collection 2011 4-disc set): The film is in 3 parts on discs 1-3. Disc 4 is bonus features, and there are some bonus features on discs 2 & 3 as well. Bonus features on Disc 2 are: "Shooting the OPEC Sequence" (20 min), which takes us behind the scenes and offers some commentary by director Olivier Assayas (in English & French with English subtitles), and "Denis Lenoir" (13 min), which is an interview with one of the film's cinematographers. Lenoir talks about shooting the film quickly, lighting, and working with director (in English). There is also a "Selected Scene Commentary" (9 min) by Denis Lenoir in which he describes how he shot 6 scenes.
The bonus features on Disc 3 are interviews with Olivier Assayas (43 min) and with actor Édgar Ramírez (20 min). The interview with Assayas, filmed April 2011, is very worthwhile. He speaks about Carlos' media image and place in Cold War politics, as well as how the project came together. Ramírez offers his observations of Carlos' character and tells us how he prepared for the role. These interviews are in English.
Disc 4 contains two documentaries and one interview. "Carlos: Terrorist without Borders" (1 hour) is a 1997 French television documentary that follows Carlos' life from his youth until 1994. All of his major activity is covered, and it fills in some gaps in the feature film, so this is worthwhile (in French with English subtitles). "Hans-Joachim Klein" (40 min) excerpts a 1995 interview with the man who left Carlos' group, made while he was still in hiding. His discussion of his political life, decisions, and Carlos is articulate and interesting (in German with English subtitles). "Maison de France" (1 hr, 28 min) is a documentary about the 1983 bombing of the French consulate in West Berlin by Johannes Weinrich. It focuses on 2 people: the single fatality, a man named Michael Haritz who was at the consulate to deliver an anti-nuclear petition, and the perpetrator, Weinrich. In German with English subtitles.
on February 11, 2013
First shown on French television, Carlos, the full version presented by Criterion, was ineligible for Oscar nomination, though I thought it had the best leading actor performance (the amazing Edgar Ramirez) (you really want to compare Oscar winner Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart to Ramirez's tour de force???) and arguably best picture of 2010. It demands knowledge or research of the political events and nuances but the performances and cinematography are so strong as to render detailed knowledge unnecessary. An unsympathetic character, a terrorist monster, with maddeningly complex and nearly attractive characteristics, Ramirez achieves a dramatic arc over the 339 minutes (and it seems so much shorter than its running time) that is one of the most memorable in film history. The actor took on a part that is dangerous and constantly evolving and has succeeded on every level of great performance art. The movie presents issues that viewers are forced to argue over, accept, reject, reconsider, smile, frown, and respond to on multiple emotional levels. The action sequences are marvelous for tension and character input, the center piece being the OPEC takeover in part two. Some have expressed a bit of disappointment over the slower pace of part three, certainly compared to the first four hours, but we are dealing with yet another phase in the protagonists existence, one which adheres to his changing world and physical deterioration. This is one hell of a movie and demands repeated viewings to appreciate and absorb its artistry.
on October 18, 2012
I saw this film on the Sundance Channel and liked the movie because it is a powerful acting by Edgar Ramirez. I order all my DVD's with either closed captioning and/or subtitled in English, because I have hearing difficulties, needless to say, this was advertised as being subtitled in English but only the non-English portions of the film are subtitled, which is a very disappointing for all of us who have hearing difficulties and rely on true information concerning subtitles and/or closed captioning..
on July 22, 2011
This is a brilliant miniseries. Be sure to get the miniseries and not the film version. Carlos is portrayed as a totally egocentric character and not at all likeable. But it is a fascinating study of a kind of person drawn to terrorism for excitement. Despite being very long, the miniseries doesn't really drag. On just a few occasion it gets a bit slow, but the director has scouted for nice locations with a 70s feel so even those sections are interesting. Highly recommended. Clearly in my top 5 for 2010.
on November 14, 2011
I've been a fan of the work of Olivier Assayas for quite some time now, after seeing films of his such as Irma Vepp and Les Distenees, and I can without a doubt say that Carlos is his masterpiece. The French New Wave inspired free-flowing filmmaking technique that Olivier Assayas used on a smaller scale in earlier films such as Irma Vepp is taken to a macro level and extended onto an epic canvas. Carlos is nothing more than a history of modern terrorism, told through the story of a man who started out as an idealist, then became nothing more than a parody of himself. Power indeed does corrupt, but its a great subject matter for movies.
on November 4, 2011
I saw this in Greenwich Village back in January & I was blown away. Got the chance to watch it on Netflix recently & it was STILL just as amazing! I don't see it being either sympathetic or critical of Carlos, it just tells his story. However, the two best aspects about this lengthy docudrama are the consistency of an intriguingly told story and, most importantly, Edgar Ramirez' incredible performance! Watch this one, take a few days to do it, but watch it. For further great movies in the same vein, I recommend Mesrine (Parts 1 & 2) & Che (both parts & featuring an incredible performance by Benecio del Toro).
The following review is for the THEATRICAL VERSION only:
So, last year's `Carlos' was one of those films I didn't really know how to take; and that was before I even saw the film. It was being nominated (and at times even winning) in various categories in film and television and I always look at film through a specific light (in terms of awards) so I was struggling with understanding just what this film was. Was it a television mini-series? Was it a feature film? It can't be both; can it?
It is both, and since I never `really' watch TV, and I always watch films with the intent of categorizing my own personal awards, I watched the theatrical cut.
I need to see the full version ASAP!
That isn't to say that this theatrical version isn't good, because it is very good. I just have a feeling that this could have been great, and I feel that it probably is in its full five-plus hour form. I have always been one for lengthy, in depth portrayals of real life individuals, because life is never a condensing of particular events. You cannot begin to fathom who someone really is by merely focusing on the moments in their life that are the most eventful or the most memorable or the most publicized. It is the smaller moments (some of which are hinted at in this cut) that really `make the man' so-to-speak. With that in mind, this nearly three hour expose on Carlos the Jackal misses the mark a bit for me. There is so much time spent on a few `events' that little time is given to his personal life, other than some colorful (and rather explicit) moments involving his indulgences. My main complaint is the film's conclusion. The last thirty minutes or so feel rushed and contain riffs, spotty developmental points that could have (and possibly are) been fleshed out fuller to provide a more well-rounded idea of who this man was.
That mere complain aside, this film is still VERY good and I highly recommend seeing it. I am the type of person (and this is a personal thing) that struggles following certain biopics it they aren't familiar territory for me. I've heard of Carlos the Jackal, but my understanding of his life and times are really derived from this film, as I was not familiar with him beforehand. Because of that, some of the events conveyed went over my head without further research on the subject, and while contemplating the events certainly fleshed them out in my mind as the film progressed, I had to constantly think about it in order to appreciate it.
Another reason why I should see the full version soon.
For what this is (a condensed `edit' of a much larger epic portrayal of a legendary terrorist) it is very good. The direction is sharp and the scenes have a flow to them. You really wouldn't guess that there was any edit at all here, which is surprising. As much as I missed some `smaller details' about this man, I didn't feel that there exclusion damaged the internal flow of the film. The pacing was superb (even at nearly three hours it flew by) and the performances are all uniformly great, with Edgar Ramirez serving up one of the finest performances I've seen in a long time. He's sexy and vibrant and cool and stern and commanding and alluring and arrogant and charming, all when needed and never confusing. It's a powerhouse performance; truly. The other actors come and go, some leaving an imprint (Nora von Waldstatten is particularly good in her few scenes, but it is also her storyline that suffers the most from the condensing taking place) while others don't add much.
In the end, I highly recommend seeing this film. I will soon (not sure when, but soon) get around to seeing the full television version, and after that I'll be able to weigh in more fully on my feelings, but for now they are good. I truly like the spirit that was captured here. I won't soon forget this film.