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Ilich Ramírez Sánchez aka Carlos the Jackal, Venezuelan (but educated
in communist USSR), was the most notorious terrorist in Europe and some
Africa and Middle East countries.
Affiliated with the Palestinian / anti-Zionism cause and justice and equality for the people; he publicly proclaim some of Ernesto "CHE" Guevara's socialist concepts; however comparing these two different characters will be a huge mistake. While the later was driven by ideals and passion; Carlos was mostly moved by his egomaniacal needs of power, notoriety and money.
Olivier Assasyas did a deep historical analysis of Carlos' trajectory during a period of about 20 years. In order to produce a continuity he tied real events from the seventies mid nineties (sme using reel footage others dramatized) with fictional "what if" situations (showing interactions and negotiations with different people and powers). Whatever really happened in those meetings can only be guessed based in subsequent events. The final product is almost perfect. Carlos emerges as a very complex character. He was mercenary, ambitious and power hungry person; very cold but a very smart. He is never shown as a coward but he was not always on the front line either. When he is asked to be killed for "the cause", he states "I am a soldier not a martyr" he states when he is asked to be killed by "the cause". He used people (particularly women) that were easily seduced by his discourse (it seems his sexual life was really over the top) for minor actions but he was there in the most important ones like the OPEC kidnapping. Edgar Ramirez is outstanding as the main character; speaking several languages with ease and convincing in all of them. His charisma stays even when he is doing hideous statements or acts or beating a woman. This movie could not exist without him.
However, this five and a half hours TV mini-series (it can also be viewed in cinemas as three hours movie) is not really a Carlos' biopic but a serious essay about modern terrorism. Carlos was (and he knew that) just a famous puppet. He was an instrument until the end of Cold War; then was kept "protected" by different countries until his knowledge was outdated. After that he was betrayed by his contractors and imprisoned by the French government (he was only judged by the killing of two police officers and is currently serving life prison).
USA FCC censorship will never allow this movie to be shown in public TV as it was in Europe (there is nudity and swearing all over). It is really a pity because young people should see this to understand the difference between fight and manipulation.
Much will be said about this tour de force. A compilation of unbelievable acts of heroic madness. A caption at the beginning of he film warn us that "it should be treated as a work of fiction" Well, thank you very much. What makes this extraordinary achievement, truly extraordinary is Edgar Ramirez. A monumental performance that allows us to make sense of the man. Revolution is in his DNA but so fragile. His ego makes him corruptible and his nature swings between the extremes of an idealist and a sociopath. I was riveted and appalled. I had DVR all three episodes to watch at my leisure but once I started I couldn't stop watching. So I saw the whole thing in one sitting and it went fast very fast. That in itself is extraordinary. So, not to be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched this 5-hour TV mini-series in a single day, in a single
sitting, finally crawling into bed at 3am in spite of having to work
the next day. The film traces the meteoric rise to international infamy
of a figure who, in spite of being very-much real (he still languishes
in a French jail, and has viewed the said film), has almost attained
the status of myth in the contemporary consciousness. However, if there
is one thing the series does extremely well, it is to collapse and
invert the romance attached to the man; showing him as, yes, highly
intelligent and daring, but also conceited, myopic, and despicably
And yet this film also explores the geo-political causes and contexts that produced the grotesque figure of 'Carlos' in the first place, which is perhaps most perceptively achieved by revealing to the viewer the grotesque power games that were being played out by the major cold war states, in which made places like Palestine and Beirut are turned into de facto battlegrounds.
But, coming back to the film itself, which stands out in its own right as a superb piece of biopic and historical art, 'Carlos' features some of the most exceptional acting I've seen from Edgar Ramirez. In numerous scenes he codeswitches from English to Spanish, then German, then Arabic, and then French, with seamless effort. This was the role of a lifetime, but I'm sure that, given the strength of his performance, Ramirez will be highly-sought talent in future productions of similar quality.
Fast and furious, very much like the mesmerizing Mesrine in its focus
on a focused, driven psychopath who ultimately commits crimes for the
sense of power and adrenaline they fuel. Character vignettes are
sharply portrayed in short, slower-paced scenes that provide rest stops
from our own adrenaline rush and illustrate the defining personality
traits of the eponymous anti-hero. As one example: the seduction scene
in part 2 between Carlos and the German femme terrorist Magdalena Kopp.
Quite simply, like Mesrine, great cinema with action, passion and tragedy, and one of the best movies of the year.
Don't see anything less than the full version. DVR the showing on Sundance or wait for DVDs. The film was shot as a miniseries and there's no reason to see it in a theater, especially if it's the truncated version.
This is an engrossing, sometimes scary retelling of history, history so
recent it's almost shocking how dimly it is remembered in our time.
Rich in detail of a time of world-wide revolutionary fervor before its
collapse with the victory of capitalism in 1990 and its replacement by
the specter of Jihad. A film that raises many important questions about
politics and society that remain with us today - and yet still manages
to be an exciting action/espionage yarn.
Olivier Assasyas has, over the years, continued to produce so, so many interesting, impeccably intelligent, and constantly varied pieces of work - from moving generational dramas ('Late August, Early September') to pieces of compellingly sordid sleaze ('Demon Lover' and 'Boarding Gate') to quiet soulful meditations ('Summer Hours' and the sublime 'Clean'). I can't think of anyone else with such a range (except maybe Soderberg). And I think, for my money, he has become the new preeminent French film director of our poor, poor time.
CARLOS is a five hour miniseries that has garnered some of the longest
articles of praise from the newspapers across the country. Technically
speaking that is understandable: the shots of the various countries
discussed and the quality of acting from a very broad spectrum of
actors across the world is impressive. But the story (or documentary as
this is a recreation of many years of revolutionary movements that
culminated in a world famous raiding encounter at the OPEC oil
ministers conference in Vienna in 1975) wares thin very quickly. Yes,
it is somewhat enlightening to follow the development and actions of
Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the Venezuelan revolutionary better known as
'Carlos', who founded a worldwide terrorist organization, finding his
goals through hijacking of planes, capturing hostages, arranging talks
with some of the major countries in the world. But there is such a
sameness to the action that after about 2 hours of the series it is
difficult to wait for the central climactic drama. Writers Dan Franck
and Olivier Assayas (remembered for 'Paris, je t'aime' and 'Irma Vep'
who also directs) may have taken some liberties with facts but they do
deliver enough information about the birth and breeding of terrorist
groups to give us all a wake-up call.
Édgar Ramírez, a young Venezuelan actor fluent in many languages, is the main reason for watching this epic suspense thriller. He is a major presence and makes 'Carlos' seem like a righteous humanitarian revolutionary - a problem when the details of the real character Carlos are examined. He is able assisted by a strong cast - a few of the main additional characters are played by Alexander Scheer, Alejandro Arroyo, Ahmad Kaabour, Talal El-Jordi and Juana Acosta in addition to many many others. But sitting through he series, especially during the long hours of lack of activity aboard a hijacked airplane with hostages for example, begins to bog down the story. Once the idea of the story is hatched it simply becomes a long song spanning many countries and diminishes in interest. The series is due to open in theaters this week: it will be interesting to see if they play the entire 5 hours in one sitting!
A reviewer (understandably) posted a comment that indicated the US censorship forces would not allow this series to be shown on mass market outlets such as major cable TV networks. I include an excerpt from this person's review below: "USA FCC censorship will never allow this movie to be shown in public TV as it was in Europe (there is nudity and swearing all over). It is really a pity because young people should see this to understand the difference between fight and manipulation." I am happy to report that the major cable TV network, Time Warner cable TV, is showing this series now on its "on-demand" channels, which is very convenient for viewing. I saw evidence that the series was not substantially edited in that frontal male nudity was shown (a US taboo) and also the length of the 3-part series seems consistent with the most nearly complete versions of this series. This is of course not proof that nothing was edited, but it is encouraging. I hope this information is helpful to others!
Olivier Assayas, that astonishingly versatile director, has given us a
film about Ilich Ramirez called Carlos. I found a lot of pleasure in
the details: for example the singalong by Venezuelan and other exiles
in a Paris apartment that turns into a bloodbath when the police enter
and try to detain Carlos. The nervous hand-held camera work as the
mayhem begins is most effective. The center-piece of any film about
Middle Eastern terrorism must be the OPEC hostage taking, and this
event Assayas depicts very well.
Carlos made me think of the political dramas the Italians used to do so well: The Mattei Affair and Exquisite Corpses by Rosi, The Battle of Algiers by Pontecorvo. I would give it a higher mark if the running time were not so excessive. The truth is that the last thirty years of this man's life have been pretty uneventful, and don't merit the outlay in time.
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 monologues ring.
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 a) 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 cover, even in 5 hours.
When you want to make a movie of a notorious terrorist responsible for
many innocent lives, it is a very difficult task: If you portray him in
a romantic way you will be accused of glorifying an evil man, while if
you portray him in a dark light you will be accused of blind
Director Olivier Assayas has managed to strike a fine balance between these two extremes, and thus he recounts the story of Carlos in an objective and cool-headed way which fascinates the viewer from the beginning to the very end. The story begins with Carlos entering the world of terrorism as a young idealist, and ends with his capture at a time when he has become a corrupt and hedonist man. Throughout this time frame, Assayas shows us the story of a man, who despite his horrendous crimes, his life is really intriguing to watch.
Edgar Ramirez is excellent in the central role, but the important thing in this film is that actually EVERYONE in the film is excellent in his/her role: The acting is superb all around, and at some point it begins to feel as if you are watching a documentary with real terrorists on the screen instead of actors. The direction is also superb, with the the pace being constantly fast and coherent.
A great film to watch. 10/10.
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