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