24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Carlos

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

October 23, 2010 |  2:00 pm

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 


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

Betsy Sharkey's critic's pick of the week: 'Carlos'

October 20, 2010 |  4:36 pm

This weekend is your chance to do something unique, experience something that years later only an exclusive group will be able to lay claim to: Seeing "Carlos," in toto, in theater, the way it was meant to be seen. French director Olivier Assayas' socio-geo-political masterpiece on the infamous Venezuela-born terrorist who stalked Europe during the '70s and '80s, will screen in Los Angeles only five times in its 5½-hour form starting Friday at 7 p.m. at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.

Now if 5½ hours sounds daunting, don't be dissuaded; in Assayas' hands, the film involves, seduces and moves at such a pulse-pounding pace that the time goes by in a flash. (And, yes, there's a brief intermission about 2/3 of the way through.) So seductive is "Carlos," with its star, Edgar Ramirez ("Che," "The Bourne Ultimatum") so charismatic, you'll be swept into the mind of a terrorist in a way that is, well, terrifying.

The collaboration between Ramirez and Assayas creates a portrait that neither romanticizes nor demonizes Carlos. Rather, they dismantle the myth to take some measure of the man. Ramirez crawls so deeply inside the character, making his performance unforgettable.

For those around him, Carlos was a heady cocktail of power, ambition, politics, sexuality and danger too intoxicating to resist. They may question, but ultimately they follow. That makes some of what happened not forgivable, but understandable, as we go inside the mayhem he created -- with the taking of the OPEC ministers in 1975, the most infamous. Assayas turns those scenes into a brilliant dissection, capturing the crosscurrents of fear and feigned camaraderie in the bizarre conversations between Carlos and his captives.

Meanwhile, for those of us sitting in the communal darkness of a theater, Assayas has created a cinematic experience so alive you almost choke on the cigarette smoke that thickens the rooms where plots are hatched and enemies gunned down; its sexual encounters are so visceral, the sweat and stink is palpable; its brutality so fueled by rage your own blood runs cold as someone else's pools.

What the filmmaker has done as well is remind us of the sheer immersive force of the historical epic, a genre that has all but disappeared from the big screen. You have your chance this weekend. Take the plunge.

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Edgar Ramirez, right, in a scene from Olivier Assayas' "Carlos." Credit: Sundance Channel


‘Carlos’ star Édgar Ramírez acts on killer instincts

Movie review: 'Carlos'

Cannes 2010: Olivier Assayas: 'I did not want to make Carlos'

May 21, 2010 |  5:12 pm

There are long movies. There are massively long movies. And then there is "Carlos."

A dramatized story of the rise and fall of the enigmatic, charismatic and at times dogmatic terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, Olivier Assayas' new film clocks in at a leg-numbing 5 hours and 19 minutes. If that sounds like a daunting viewing experience, it may be of some comfort to know that the man responsible for it was intimidated too.

"I did not want to make ‘Carlos.' It seemed too crazy and too complicated,” said Assayas during an interview in a Cannes restaurant two days after the film premiered. "It just happened to me."

What happened — or what Assayas made happen, with the financing of the French broadcaster Canal-Plus — was a seven-month shoot across three continents. The result, which premiered in a marathon screening at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday and will be released by IFC both in this form and as a 2 1/2-hour condensed version in theaters and on television this fall, is a sprawling and suspenseful film about one of the 20th century’s least understood radicals.

Born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez in Venezuela, Carlos emerged in the 1970s as a radical leftist operative with the violent Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine before striking out on his own. In his subsequent two-decade career as a leftist guerrilla and terrorist leader, he allegedly masterminded numerous deadly attacks across Europe and the Middle East before finally being captured in 1994 and convicted three years later of the slaying of several counterintelligence agents.

Divided into three parts (and airing over three nights this weekend on French television), the film thoroughly and thrillingly explores the becoming of Carlos, his run as a guerrilla leader and debonair Lothario in the vein of John Dillinger, and his eventual demise into a cartoonish glutton who spends too many hours dancing in cheesy nightclubs. Think of "Munich" with more ambition, or "The Bourne Identity" with more substance, and you begin to get a sense of the film’s tone and scope.

Assayas, who landed on Americans’ radar two years ago with a very different work, the family drama "Summer Hours," combed through reams of material and consulted with multiple journalists (though he still warns in the title screen that this is a work of fiction). "What spoke to me is a life full of such extraordinary events. I had about three stereotypical notions of him, and they didn’t even connect. Until now, he’s existed only as a media abstraction."

Indeed, Carlos has been among the most romanticized terrorist leaders of modern times (he’s memorialized, among other pop-cultural vehicles, in Robert Ludlum’s bestselling Jason Bourne novels). But this film, in which the Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez plays Carlos with suave aplomb, is meant to shred some of the paper-thin conceptions about the assassin.

"What we’re trying to do is demystify him," Ramirez said in an interview. “This guy who supposedly had everything figured out was not as keen as he was said to be. The public and historical image was as history’s big manipulator but in many moments of his life, he was being manipulated."

That image is in particular relief during the film’s linchpin scenes, occupying most of the second chapter. In a major attack Carlos led on a meeting of OPEC ministers in Vienna, and in the subsequent removal of hostages to Algeria, the terrorist makes numerous political and logistical missteps and loses control of the operation.

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Cannes Critical Consensus: 'Carlos'

May 20, 2010 | 11:19 am


If you can spend a day in a theater and have buns of steel, "Carlos" might be for you.

The epic-length biographical drama about a violent Venezuelan revolutionary known as "Carlos the Jackal" attracted some of the better reviews to come out of the Cannes Film Festival. The movie, which clocks in at nearly 5 1/2 hours, will be released on the Sundance Channel as a miniseries and by IFC Films (in its full and a shortened version) theatrically.

A sampling of some of the mostly positive notices:

Todd McCarthy, IndieWire: " 'Carlos' is everything 'Che' wanted to be and much, much more—a dynamic, convincing and revelatory account of a notorious revolutionary terrorist’s career that rivets the attention during every one of its 321 minutes. In what is certainly his best work, French director Olivier Assayas adopts a fleet, ever-propulsive style that creates an extraordinary you-are-there sense of verisimilitude, while Edgar Ramirez inhabits the title role with arrogant charisma of Brando in his prime. It’s an astonishing film."

Manohla Dargis, the New York Times: "...if Carlos is essentially uninteresting – it’s his violence and the veneer of sexiness that violence can bring with it that makes him a star – it’s because Mr. Assayas has worked hard to create a new kind of movie terrorist. With his beard, beret and black leather jacket, the young Carlos is a militant pin-up. But Carlos isn’t Che slogging through the jungle for the cause: Carlos is a mercenary, a thug."

Sukhdev Sandhu, the Telegraph: "...this enthralling portrait of the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal lasts for over five hours and doesn’t contain a wasted minute. The story ranges far and wide – from Europe, Latin America to Africa and the Middle East – and it’s a testament to Assayas’s control and discipline (qualities for which, though often brilliant, he’s not renowned) that the murky and dispersed nature of the central story never escapes him."

Continue reading »


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