10 Nov

Title: Carlos
Olivier Assayas
Dan Franck and Olivier Assayas
Édgar Ramírez, Alexander Scheer, Nora von Waldstätten, Christoph Bach, Ahmad Kaabour, Susanne Wuest, Anna Thalbach, Julia Hummer
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
140 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

Carlos is actually a 3-part miniseries about Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan terrorist who at one point in history was one of the most wanted fugitives in the world. That 3-part miniseries is impeccable and runs for 5-and-a-half hours, while the theatrical release was cut by some 3 hours to 140 minutes. I’ve seen both versions now, and while the original, longer version of this is definitely better, the condensed version shown in theaters is still pretty damn perfect.

This is one ambitious film that paid off. And the result is staggering, the portrayal of the title character is subtle but absolute, dissecting him psychologically to the bone. And I would imagine that some people would surely pick the shorter version just because it sounds infinitely more accessible, and while that version is still unbelievably good, I’d advice you to pick the longer one for your consumption. It’s over five hours, that’s true, but it goes by real fast, and there won’t be a moment in which you’ll want to be doing something else, not one. You’ll fall into the experience thoroughly, the scenes are long, but they’re not boring, they’re just calm, taking their time to tell this very dense and interesting story. Once you decide to commit to this experience fully you’ll see just how short five hours can be.

Carlos the Jackal has been portrayed many times, by many biographies, by many television specials, but I think Oliver Assayas’ masterful epic film will be one of the definitive visions of the man’s story. And he really was a very fascinating man, who led a life full of death and a shitload of attention surrounding him. Carlos was a man who wanted the sort of terrorist he was to be the source of admiration of some, the source of interest of many, to be the stuff of legend. And we see a bit of this early on, as Carlos is shown in kind of a vain light, looking at his body, deciding what clothes to be seen in, exuding the image of the playboy of terrorism.

Those are the aspects in which the longer version of Carlos is better, because it takes longer to examine each part of Carlos’ life, this more self-appreciating aspect of him gets us to be closer to him, to know what he was like. And, again, that’s why the five-hour cut is so useful, because it gives much broader vision, and it’s that much better.

I knew the story because I had read about him, but they way it’s told here is still amazing, and I would imagine would be fascinating even to the people most familiar with the tale. The Jackal was the son of a Venezuelan Marxist who was a fan of Lenin, which is why Carlos’ real name is Ilich, after Lenin’s second name. After being schooled in the Soviet Union he joins a extremist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, for which he started carrying out some operations that didn’t always work out precisely as planned. This part of his life is explored very nicely by Mr. Assayas, and we see how Carlos evolves, how the operations he’s in become bigger and more notorious and how The Jackal starts claiming more victims and, with that, more fame.

The exploration of the psyche of Carlos is exception in this film, the guy is obsessed with himself, he loves boasting about his achievements, about the ideology his father imparted on him, he just loves violence because he lusts for power, and it’s just damn enthralling to see how Mr. Assayas has all of this play out here. What’s very commendable of his directorial vision in Carlos is that Mr. Assayas doesn’t go ahead and tell the story with hindsight set into motion, he doesn’t set out and condemn Carlos from the get-go because we now know what he did. He tells the story one step at a time, as it happened, basing itself on the stuff as it transpires and not on what will happen next and how we’ll grow to see it as.

I won’t go ahead and tell you the story of Carlos scene by scene, mostly because it’s a lot and it would take a lot of space to write, but also partly because you may already know it, and partly because you’ll have fun just getting to see it yourself without knowing how it’s gonna all be told. But I will tell you this, if you have the opportunity to see Carlos, please go see it, if you can spare the five hours and really allow yourself to be immersed in the longer version, go check that one out, but if you can’t the short version is still pretty damn captivating. The difference is that the long versions takes its time, and the progress seems more natural, and it’s more amazing to see it all unravel like that, for sure, but the short version will still blow the socks out of everyone.

This is an amazing piece of filmmaking, how Mr. Assayas and Mr. Ramírez, who gives an impeccable performance, tell the story and show the evolution, both physically and mentally, of one of the world’s most notorios terrorists and idealists is a thing of beauty. And, what’s more, is that Mr. Assayas’ crafted an epic in every sense of the word, and historical epics have been pretty much absent from theaters for quite some time. And this gave me hope that maybe more people will venture into making them when they see the kind of results it can achieve, sure, that may be false hope because I don’t know how many people would invest in a thing like this when it’s far safer to hand that money over to Michael Bay and have him blow shit up, but maybe that day will come. One can only hope.

Grade: A-


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