Carlos (France/Germany, 2010)

carlos_xlgDirected by: Olivier Assayas. Really, I almost feel like this belongs in the 2013 posts, since I started with the stand-alone, 3-hour, American edited movie Carlos: The Jackal, just to see if I wanted to make the commitment of the full 8-hour epic  (after starting this epic many months ago but giving up due to time constraints). Really, there was no way that I wasn’t going to see this movie, once I found out about its existence. A sprawling, groundbreaking meditation on terrorism, leftist politics, internationalism, and celebrity, in 6 languages, directed by Olivier Assayas, one of my favourite living filmmakers? Give me a break. I’m surprised I didn’t just go out and buy it right away (the library copy has to come in a giant case to fit everything, much like Twin Peaks, and all the extras and essays and whatnot are pretty appealing). This movie was pretty huge for me. It was so long, I watched it over so many sittings, it just fired off so many different things in my brain. A big part of it was that fucking soundtrack. I saw this movie right around the same time that a friend recommended a bunch of Wire albums for me, and I always loved this punchy side of New Order to their more sentimental stuff (“Dreams Never End” is like fucking cotton candy to my ears). In addition to making me want to look up a bunch of 80’s post-punk, it made me want to read up a bit about leftist revolutionary terrorists of the 70’s and 80’s and re-watch Munich (which I did, and it holds up as a pretty great Spielberg movie). This movie really struck onto something that’s been interesting me for a while, the way it dives into that line between nonviolent leftist revolutionary idealism of the 1968 variety (and which Assayas himself is no stranger to, as we saw in Something in the Air) and straight up violent, innocent bystander-killing, full-on anti-imperialist warriors. These are the people who are actually want to change the way that the world is running, but for various, dubious, conflicting reasons. This movie is so fucking fascinating, how it presents all of this with such incredible romanticism and makes it all look so damn attractive on a superficial level, while simultaneously using the detached, arm’s-length narrative distance that Assayas seems to use all the time to demonstrate to us over and over again that all of these people, especially Carlos, are just idiosyncratic individuals engaged in this spontaneous, dangerous, underground criminal existence because it suits their own personal/psychological compulsions and appetites. The film definitely displays an obvious affection for Angie—the guy who left it all behind and featured on some documentaries in his old age—and Carlos’ poor wife Magdalena Kopp gets some sympathy. Beyond these two examples, though, everyone else is kind of kept at arm’s length. We don’t really know what fuels Wadie Hadad or Ali or Weinrich—we have to assume it’s a face-value devotion to their ideological cause (except Weinrich, right? That guy just looks sleazy). With Carlos himself, we get to spend 5 hours (is it 6?) observing him, observing the layers of his personality, trying to pick apart where his devotion to the cause is genuine (as it sometimes must be) and where his actions are fueled by some mix of stubbornness, immature fantasy James Bond role-playing, and a kind of sexual fetish he gets from weapons (how much of that is the film’s invention is anyone’s guess). Is it possible to praise Edgar Ramirez enough for what he does in this movie? It’s one of those performances that’s so good, it actually might endanger his future career—anything he does for a long while just might have the shadow of Carlos hanging over him. Honestly, I could watch an even more in-depth miniseries—if this were 10 hours, I’d watch all 10 hours no problem. All of the actors are amazing, they are all fully-rounded, three-dimensional, believable individuals. The way that the film mixes source news footage and relies so heavily on historical events and explicitly bases everything on real people and real incidents, it comes closer than any film I’ve seen to capturing what they’re all trying to capture: a “realistic” political meditation/social commentary set in real life that is simultaneously very stylish, very character-oriented, very movie-like. And this ties in to what I said earlier about the arm’s-length distance. You see it in Steve McQueen’s stuff too sometimes, but where McQueen will literally give you camera distance—that modern classic shot in Hunger where Fassbender and Cunningham hash out modern Irish politics for 25 minutes in a single medium/long shot where you can barely see the expressions on their face—physical distance to create emotional distance, Assayas has that emotional distance anyway. And somehow, sometimes, even when he’ right up close, we get the actor’s face filling the whole screen, you can see the sweat on their brow, and this is still an impenetrable human being. In my opinion, Assayas is doing that for basically the entire duration of Carlos. Clearly, I could talk all day about this miniseries, but you should just watch it yourself, in one sitting if possible. It’s a great human drama, a great action thriller, a great erotic international spy thriller, and a great primer on late 20th century politics.

5 responses to “Carlos (France/Germany, 2010)

  1. Pingback: The Counselor (USA/UK, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

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  3. Pingback: Bridge of Spies (USA/Germany, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

  4. Pingback: Irma Vep (France, 1996) | Offhand Reviews·

  5. Pingback: Hands of Stone (USA, 2016) | Offhand Reviews·

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