163 minutes

Epic in scope yet unusually up close and personal in its nuts and bolts, Olivier Assayas' ambitious, biographical deconstruction of infamous 1970s terrorist Carlos "The Jackal" has been in the news ever since its unveiling at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Steered by producer and former investigative journalist Daniel Leconte as a prestige miniseries for French pay-cable channel Canal Plus but shot on widescreen 35mm film, Carlos was denied a competitive berth at the fest in its full, nearly six-hour version due to its origin as a television project. A mere technicality if ever there was one, since what is so outstanding about mr. Assayas' work is how distinctly cinematic and un-televisual it is (rather than presented as a series of episodes, it was broadcast as three 100-minute films). To confuse matters further, mr. Assayas also created this 163-minute big-screen version — not a "chopped down" edit of the series as often these things are, but an autonomously constructed film meant for theatrical release both in France and internationally (although the US, for example, actually released theatrically both cuts).
     Either way, though, mr. Assayas has really delivered the goods: Carlos not only stands up well next to the best American genre competition has to offer, it also works as a smart, urgent distillation of the French director and former Cahiers du Cinéma critic's own work over the years. His interest in genre cinema and his desire to work within conventions all the better to deconstruct them (Dreamlover, Irma Vep), his fascination with the shifting borders of our globalized world (Boarding Gate, Summer Hours) and his portrayal of characters that are somehow maladjusted within this world (Clean, Boarding Gate) all come to a head in his take on Carlos, superbly inhabited by Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramírez, as a narcissist looking not for power or a cause, but for fame, recognition and status.
     From the film's early scenes, where we see Carlos caress his own body and playfully use weapons as sex toys, to the later refusal to acknowledge his time is past (like a film star that lingers on beyond his prime), mr. Assayas paints the portrait of someone who wanted not to ride or tail the wave but be the wave. In the process, the director also paints a disenchanted picture of 1970s European revolutionary ideologies and movements as inhabited mostly by naïve bourgeois seduced by the thrill of the forbidden fruit - a quest even Carlos himself, as shown in mr. Ramírez's uncanny performance, could not escape despite his adamant denials.
     Nervously, urgently shot (by cinematographers Yorick le Saux and Denis Lenoir) in a self-effacing yet impeccably controlled style, Carlos shows what can happen when you let an intelligent, motivated left-of-field director loose within the confines of a work-for-hire. Not only an admirable synthesis of his traits as a director but also mr. Assayas' best film in years, if not ever, this is an extraordinary achievement.

Starring Edgar Ramirez; Fadi Abi Samra, Ahmad Kaabour, Christoph Bach, Nora von Waldstätten, Rodney el-Haddad, Julia Hummer, Alexander Scheer, Talal el-Jordi.
     Directed by Olivier Assayas; produced by Daniel Leconte; screenplay by mr. Assayas and Dan Franck, based on a story by Daniel Leconte; directors of photography (Arane Gulliver processing, Panavision widescreen), Yorick le Saux, Denis Lenoir; production designer, François-Renaud Labarthe; costume designer, Jürgen Doering; film editor, Luc Barnier. 
     A Daniel Leconte presentation of a Film en Stock production in co-production with Egoli Tossell Film; with the participation of Canal Plus, ARTE France Cinéma, Centre National de la Cinématographie, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, TV5Monde, Cinécinéma, BE TV, PROCIREP, ANGOA. (French distributor, MK2. World sales, Studiocanal.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), April 19th 2011. 


Popular Posts