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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Carlos the Jackal

Who, if anyone, is seeing 'Carlos' in theaters? Well, Keanu Reeves, for one...

October 23, 2010 |  2:00 pm

 Carlos-still6
Who, if anyone, is seeing the full-length version of "Carlos" in theaters?

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 

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For Carlos the Jackal, the political was the personal -- and both were complex


Cannes 2010: Carlos the Jackal flashes his teeth

May 19, 2010 |  1:03 pm

Carlos
How good is Olivier Assayas' "Carlos"? Think of "The Bourne Identity" with more substance, or "Munich" with more of a pulse, and you begin to have a sense of what the French filmmaker accomplished with this globetrotting and epic look at one man's rise to the station of international guerrilla leader and terrorist celebrity.

The marathon movie played in a one-time-only session at Cannes Wednesday, starting at noon and stretching into the dinner hour (well, the dinner hour if we weren't in southern France). The film is divided into three parts -- it will air that way on French television -- and journalists and other filmgoers prepared accordingly, sneaking in sandwiches and other caloric nourishment for the break at the 3 1/2-hour mark, right after the second part and shortly after Carlos orchestrated the mainly unsuccessful raid at a Vienna OPEC meeting.

Not that one needed the carbs -- Assayas' movie provides plenty of energy of its own, offering just enough thrills to keep the film suspenseful (especially in the second section), without sacrificing character detail, period style and even, perhaps, historical truth (though a disclaimer at the beginning of the film warns that while it's based on historical research, this is primarily a work of fiction. We're sure historians will have a field day when IFC Films releases it in the fall).

Among its other striking features is how much of Carlos' ideological side it shows -- he comes off as much as a Che (at least in his own mind and the mind of his followers) as he does a mercenary assassin. Equally notable is how much this story of one man and the many connections and confrontations he has across Europe and the Middle East tells the larger political history of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as our current battle/engagement with terrorism. It's almost like an origin story for the contemporary world.

And Edgar Ramirez, while at times more debonair than revolutionary, still delivers a fluid, polylingual gem of a performance. (We'll have more from him and Assayas Thursday.)

Of course, at 319 minutes, any film will have its weak spots, and this one does too, particularly in the first section, when  many of the early missions feel a little repetitive and throat-clearing before we get to the linchpin OPEC mission of the second part, the one that put him on the map and changed his trajectory forever.

But slow in this movie is a relative term. This is an impressive work, the kind that one may be moved to see for reasons of novelty (it is a five-hour odyssey, after all) but that one is glad to have seen for all sorts of nobler reasons.

--Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Edgar Ramirez as Carlos the Jackal. Credit: Cannes Film Festival


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Cannes 2010: The day of the Jackal. Literally.

May 13, 2010 |  8:58 pm

Carlos

The news media put him on the map. Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne books made him mega-famous. But Carlos the Jackal has never enjoyed the pop-cultural honor with which he's about to be bestowed: an epic Cannes screening.

Every year on the Croisette, there's one picture of extraordinary length, a film that's as much triathlon as it is movie viewing. Many of us are still shaking off the effects of "Che," a geologically scaled four hours of Latin American jungle revolutions and speechifying, from 2008. (We knew we were in trouble when, upon entering the screening, filmgoers were handed a paper bag containing a sandwich and apple, as though we were embarking on an especially grueling class trip.)

But "Che" will look like a network sitcom compared with the five-hour-30-minute interstellar odyssey that is "Carlos,'  a dramatization of the life of one Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the notorious and elusive Venezuelan assassin known as Carlos the Jackal. If going to your typical summer popcorn movie is like a trip across the country, this is a blastoff to and from a distant planet. Your friends and family may look different when you get out.

French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (he directed a well-received drama called "Summer Hours" a couple of years back) originally made "Carlos" as a miniseries for French television. There was talk he'd scale it down to a lean three hours for Cannes, but that proved to be just talk, or wishful thinking for those hoping not to let their lives slip into old age in a French movie theater. (The movie will play in theaters in the U.S. in the fall, courtesy of art-house purveyor IFC, though the company will also make it available via cable on demand for those who want to watch from the comfort of their own homes, with the occasional merciful opportunity for a bathroom break.)

Critics are already gearing up for the gargantuan screening, which starts at noon Wednesday and ends just before Christmas. They're buzzing about it as an event and an experience, with one part apprehension and two parts professional braggadocio. (Actors bulk up for roles; the physical feats we in the media are most proud of involve sitting for long periods of time.)

One festivalgoer we know even said he was preparing  for the movie -- cue thoughts of a training regimen -- by going to other lengthy screenings in Cannes. There's no shortage. Foreign-language films like Cristi Puiu's "Aurora" are a concise three hours. Even a couple of the Hollywood movies, "Robin Hood" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," clock in at well over two hours.

Of course if any subject deserves this kind of extended treatment, it's the complicated, colorful, controversial and deeply polarizing (if also highly romanticized) Carlos the Jackal, played here by the Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez. Since Carlos came to prominence with his 1975 attack on OPEC headquarters, it's been a wild, violent run: various attacks and assassinations around the world over a period of several decades, a dramatic pursuit and capture by international law enforcement, serious legal wheeling and dealing, and his eventual conviction and imprisonment in 1997. Even from behind bars he's remained a cultural force, thanks to a conversion to radical Islam and a series of influential writings about his new beliefs. One can imagine Assayas' film will offer a very different portrayal from the globetrotting killer Bourne was stalking/avoiding around the world.

Which doesn't mean the film won't be supremely interesting. Just not supremely quick.

-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Edgar Ramirez as Carlos the Jackal. Credit: IFC Films


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