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French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (he directed a well-received drama called "Summer Hours" a couple of years back) originally made "Carlos" as a miniseries for French television.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
Photo: Edgar Ramirez as Carlos the Jackal. Credit: IFC Films
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