REVIEW: Cinema Release: Carlos

Film: Carlos
Release date: 22nd October 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 246 mins (338 mins – Trilogy version)
Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Juana Acosta, Edgar Ramirez, Alexander Scheer, Alejandro Arroyo, Ahmad Kaabour
Genre: Biography/Crime/Drama/History/Thriller
Studio: Optimum
Format: Cinema
Country: France/Germany

Originally a three-episode television mini-series, Carlos has been cut down to a slightly more digestible running time for its UK cinema release. The production is rather impressive in its scale, traversing two decades and various countries around the world, giving us a glimpse of this Venezuelan terrorist in candid fashion.

The film shows how Carlos rose to prominence in the 1970s in association with the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He became a notorious figure in international affairs and a kind of celebrity amongst terrorist groups. His most daring and elaborate of operations was the 1975 raid on the OPEC conference in Austria.

He possessed an attitude of such self-assurance that he acted and made decisions almost independently, causing friction between himself and those who led him.

As time passed in a life without pause, Carlos found it increasingly difficult to carry out his radical agenda with his militant methods, in a world where the political climate was gradually shifting…

At a hefty running length and executed with faultless craft and attention to period detail, Carlos is a film that earns your respect. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to state whether Assayas’ film really provokes any other thoughts or responses from its audience once the two and a half hours have ceased. To not reach an audience on a level deeper than just distant admiration is regrettable, especially when viewers have followed the film through what has been a considerable journey.

This is not to say that the cinematic journey itself has been unremarkable, because to suggest that would be completely erroneous. Carlos is unquestionably absorbing. One of the key factors that contribute to the film being so engaging is the unflinching directorial style of Assayas. He moves his hand-held camera around with total authority, but without inhibition - giving us an exposing view of the life and actions of this international terrorist.

Some of the most outstanding sequences featured in Carlos are the scenes of violence. Here the director, in conjunction with his cinematographers Denis Lenoir and Yorick Le Saux, depicts several violent events that are astounding in their immediacy and power. What is noticeable in these scenes is the adherence to realism. In using this realism to establish the tone prior to the commencement of the use of physical force, the director only heightens the impact of the brutality on the audience watching. Assayas also demonstrates his technical brilliance elsewhere through his rapid pace of editing, in addition to other post-production techniques, such as the blending of black-and-white news archive footage into the subsequent scene in colour.

If there is any defining sequence or moment in Carlos that the film will most likely be remembered for, it is the siege of the OPEC conference in Vienna, 1975. Carlos’ objective in the operation was to assassinate the Saudi Arabian oil minister, thus removing the obstacle to ensuring elevated oil prices to benefit ally Saddam Hussein. Aside from the frantic pace of the carnage that takes place once Carlos and his team begin their hostile takeover, Assayas also conveys a genuine sense of menace and uncertainty in the process. The uncertainty for Carlos grows as the scene progresses, with his operation failing to run as planned, especially when his crew move the hostages onto the airplane.

The film reaches a peak at this point. There is little subsequently that has the same urgency or sense of purpose as this vibrant cluster of scenes. As the narrative proceeds to take us through the following decades, Carlos struggles to maintain his influence over international affairs, particularly due to the Cold War ending further into the film. While the historical and political backdrop of the film is very interesting, we do not learn much else about Carlos. It is not mandatory that Carlos explore and examine its central character, and weave a character study of the man behind his history. However, if the film elects not to do this then surely it should provide more in the way of drama to distinguish itself. This is particularly noticeable due to the fact that the thriller-esque elements of the film are much less prominent further into the film.

One of the highlights of Assayas’ film is Edgar Ramirez’s performance. A film of this kind needs a solid performance from its leading actor, and Ramirez more than satisfies the brief. His is a magnetic, dominating portrayal, infused with masculinity, dignity and passion.

Whether it is because, as a movie version, too much has been lost from the TV series it derives from, Carlos is not as fulfilling as one would hope. It does nearly everything correctly, but just doesn’t do enough to be truly great. BN

1 comment:

  1. i've heard that the whole series is being released unedited also?