After months of build-up, the 330-minute film, French filmmaker Olivier Assayas' overwhelming portrait of the terrorist best known as Carlos the Jackal, screened for its first paying audience in Los Angeles on Friday night.
But considering that the movie had already aired, in three parts, on cable TV last week -- and that a 166-minute version will be in cinemas early next week and available via video-on-demand -- how many people are willing to devote five and a half hours to the full big-screen experience?
Turns out, some 450 people showed up at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on Friday night for the first of four shows of the long version this weekend. They filled more than two-thirds of the 600-seat venue. Keanu Reeves was among the audience, as was Directors Guild President Taylor Hackford.
There were seemingly only a dozen or so walk-outs during the epic showing of the movie, and perhaps even fewer audience members who slipped away during the intermission between the film's second and third parts. The crowd, a sort of eclectic, only-in-L.A. mix of ages, genders, races and apparent economic status, appeared to stay engaged with the film throughout. At least one person was sporting a Che Guevara T-shirt.
Before the screening began, Assayas and actor Édgar Ramírez, who plays the title role in the film, made a few introductory remarks. As to how the project began, Assayas laughed, acknowledging the long haul ahead and said, "I'll give you the short version."
Assayas said he was initially struck by Carlos as "a real-life character with a bigger-than-life story that's also the story of a generation" that "touched issues you rarely have the opportunity to touch in cinema. And he's fun." He was also taken by "the complexity of the politics of that time and simultaneously I was amazed by the wildness of the stories."
Asked how he came to cast Ramírez, who, like the real-life Carlos, is from Venezuela, speaks several languages and was the right age for the part, Assayas responded, "I always say it's kind of obvious... it's like a computer would have connected us." Once he had Ramírez for the role, however, Assayas said, "I realized I was in serious trouble because now I had to make the film. I was cornered."
Assayas said it was "overwhelming" to have such a large audience in the theater for the full-length version. "When we were making it, that seemed like science fiction," he said.
-- Mark Olsen
Photo: Édgar Ramírez in "Carlos." Credit: IFC Films