It doesn’t seem right that Olivier Assayas’ new film should be shown as one film rather than a three part miniseries as it was originally intended. The reason this doesn’t seem fair, or perhaps “right” is the better term, is the running time. Clocking in at over five hours (regardless of which cut you’ve seen) Carlos is a marathon session of film viewing but seeing it in one sitting (with one break) is perhaps the only way to truly appreciate the spectacular achievement of Assayas’ film.
Carlos the Jackal was an international terrorist, a product of his time who, like his Argentine counterpart, fought on the side of liberty and was willing to do whatever was necessary for his beliefs but Carlos took his fight internationally, aligning himself, to various degrees, with various groups and eventually, as the film tells it, buying into some of what he was fighting against.
Starting with Carlos’ first assignment, Assayas’ film outlines the rise and fall of a charismatic revolutionary, a man who wowed men and women with his speech and passion and who, for a number of years, was at the forefront of international terrorism. Bringing Carlos to life is Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez who, over the course of five hours, speaks countless languages and woos the audience with his appeal, bringing us into close quarters with a terrorist and presenting a likable persona we find ourselves liking despite our better judgment.
Assayas’ globe trotting film is full of faces, names and locations, facts upon facts that are sometimes drowned out by the action but never confusing. Even if you don’t remember one individual specifically or understand the intricacies of a plan, you’re never lost in the story which sticks closely to Carlos and his escapades. Along the way, we see the revolutionary at his highest and lowest points and at every step we’re impressed by the intricate political play and the outlandish plots which always seem to bring Carlos closer to capture.
Though the running time will definitely be a damper for many, Carlos is a brilliant counterpart to Steven Soderbergh’s Che and often, even overshadows it with its ability to build a full picture of the man in question and to boot, Assayas’ film never loses steam, trucking along at full throttle for its entire running time; no boring bits here, even when Carlos is simply hatching a plot or sharing his strong beliefs at a party. As for arguments that Assayas glamorizes terrorism, that’s certainly not the case here. Sure, we don’t often see Carlos in the outback or hiding on the streets but this was his style of terrorism and the film accurately fits the character whose story its telling.
See VIFF screening schedule for show times.