Celluloid Classics: Oliver Assayas’ “Carlos”

Hol­ly­wood and com­pany have pro­duced a myr­iad of ter­ror­ist themed films in recent mem­ory. Many of them revolve around Mid­dle East­ern jihadist fight­ers scour­ing West­ern influ­ence. You’ve seen them burn Amer­i­can flags and take hostages and tear down build­ings. And even before that, movie the­aters were pop­u­lated with Latin Amer­i­can Noriega-esque drug run­ners and com­mu­nist rad­i­cals. The pro­to­type for the active ter­ror­ist evolved from Latin to Arab after the Sep­tem­ber eleventh attacks on the World Trade Center.

Olivier Assayas’ 2010 epic film/television series Car­los fol­low the some­what exag­ger­ated life and lifestyle of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, who was known inter­na­tion­ally by his nom de guerre Car­los the Jackal.


The film begins right after the events of the Black Sep­tem­ber Mas­sacre, in a small dimly lit apart­ment belong­ing to a man named Mohammed Boudia. Leav­ing his girl­friend in their home, he exits his build­ing and makes his way to the the­ater. On the way out, his car explodes in flames; a polit­i­cal assas­si­na­tion. The film is crowded with vio­lent deaths and sex­u­al­ity. With some sharp edit­ing and an up-tempo sound­track, we are intro­duced to a clean shaven Car­los, in Beirut, meet­ing with none other than Wadie Had­dad, who is spear­head­ing an oper­a­tion to lib­er­ate Pales­tine. The film cov­ers Car­los’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in left-wing activism, his unde­ni­able charm and influ­ence on the peo­ple around him, and com­mit­ment to his ideals. Car­los is a strange amal­ga­ma­tion. The film seam­lessly blends an era of epic polit­i­cal upheaval: Munich 1972, the infa­mous hostage sit­u­a­tion of the OPEC meet­ing in Vienna, and the mur­der of two DST offi­cers which finally caught up with him.

Édgar Ramírez por­trays Car­los as a “swag­ger­ing global gang­ster”, says Cri­te­rion. I say he plays it with all the reck­less aban­don and wan­ton of an artist inspired. A hyp­notic mix­ture of sex appeal, polit­i­cal deviance (one might even say genius) and absolute dan­ger. Ramírez has absorbed his char­ac­ter fully. In one scene, Car­los leaves his bath and stands in front of a full length mir­ror fully nude, tak­ing pride in his penis. An obvi­ous cue to sense his immense pride and “man­li­ness”. The image on the cover of the dvd case cov­ers the feel­ing per­fectly: a boast­ful Car­los, clad in his sym­bolic black beret, step­ping out of an air­plane with a cig­a­rette in one hand and a machine gun in the other, the paparazzi try­ing the make sense of who this char­ac­ter is.

The five and a half hour film is cou­pled with a won­der­ful sound­track fea­tur­ing New World’s “Dreams Never End”, for­ever scar­ring your image of the tune. What a won­der­ful expe­ri­ence! The same is done for The Feel­ies’ “Love­less Love”, which is used as a tool to heighten the audience’s awareness.

Between the actors, the music, sub­ject mat­ter, and its sheer length and scope, we have a grand film, cov­er­ing the tur­bu­lent era between 1970 and 1994. The film was shot in more than five lan­guages due to its con­stant move­ment from Lon­don to Khar­toum, and every­where in between. The orig­i­nal air­ing was on both the Sun­dance and IFC Chan­nels. But those ver­sions are cut and edited from the orig­i­nal director’s edit. I sug­gest pick­ing up the film on dvd, espe­cially the Cri­te­rion release.

If you find your­self enjoy­ing this film, I also rec­om­mend these: CHE Parts I and II (2008), The Baader-Meinhof Com­plex, both parts of Mes­rine (2008)

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