I bet, if you see this film, and you are a bloke, you will love it.  And likewise, if you are a female, you will hate it.

It’s just a theory.  Prove me wrong!

The men in my family thought Carlos was a Robin Hood or James Bond character: robbing from fat capitalists to provide justice for the downtrodden nations.

With cool hair and a stream of hot girlfriends, ‘the man who hijacked the world’ spoke trillions of languages, could argue politics passionately, had friends in high places and knew his way round bombs, assassinations and nifty wee revolvers.

The women however, thought he was a loser.

“A man’s view of handsome.”  In love with himself as he stood naked in front of umpteen mirrors and caressing women with his grenades and guns because “weapons are an extension of my body,” eugh.

Carlos is the story of Venezuelan revolutionary, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, who founded a worldwide terrorist organization and raided the OPEC headquarters in 1975 before being caught by the French police.

However, Carlos the loser treated his co-workers with contempt by setting off a training practise bomb too early to show ‘that’s what can happen in the real world’.  He was cavalier with his bosses’ instructions; disrespected authority; was unfaithful, a bigamist, used prostitutes, went cock-fighting and got fatter and more seedy as time (5hrs) went by.

As the glories of ideological youth started to fall by the wayside, his hunger for money and fame betrayed his true motivations for the armed struggle.

At one point, he even chose to postpone a vital testicle operation (low sperm count, contorted willy, or something) because his liposuction operation on his love-handles was scheduled for the next day.

Carlos the Bogey Man, Carlos the Jackal, Carlos the world’s first media-hungry pop terrorist is still alive and rotting in a jail in France. Yet the French director Olivier Assayas, despite doing 2 years of meticulous research with co-writer Dan Franck, chose not to interview him.

Hmmm, likely a film not too sympathetic to the man or the cause, me-thought.

Well, I’ll tell you how great the movie is, and I’ll leave my big ‘but’ till later …

Carlos is an incredible film about the 70s.  The attention to detail is breath-taking.  From the flared troos, leather jackets, che guevara berets, Russian overcoats and groovy sunglasses to ice-cream van ambulances with polite tunes, smokers lighting up in trams and police stations and the innocent state supplying ham sandwiches to kosher or halal politicians.

Despite his high ideals for marxist or islamic revolution, it seems Carlos’ only legacy is a society awash with security checks, cameras and institutionalised suspicion.

Never again will a bunch of scruffy student types walk into an OPEC conference centre, ask where the meeting is taking place and be directed up to the second floor.

Never again will an assassination attempt be conducted by driving up to the Chairman of Marks and Spencer‘s house in your own car, walk up the drive, knock on the door, put on your balaclava then rush upstairs with a gun to the butler’s throat.

And never again will we hear terrorist demands being read out verbatim by broadcasters on TV and radio while 30-odd hostages are held in a plane on the tarmac.

Rather than a calling card for frustrated youth being tempted into terrorism, the film is more a cautionary tale about the vanities and glory-seeking ambitions of folk seeking the international stage for the wrong reason.

Carlos was the international man of mystery in the 70s, much like today’s Sam the Lad (Osama bin Laden).  Nobody in their right mind would actually fund a story sympathetic to the cause.  That’s why the film fails.  A normal film would have given a proper grounding in the motivations of why a nice, educated bourgeois young man from Venezuela would give it all up for a life of international crime.

A proper film would have had … scene one: his sister gets violated, his mother kidnapped, he tracks down the perpetrators and the corrupt bad apples of the capitalist regime …

Instead, we got a Jim Morrison looky-likey with the same self-destructive vitality.  As a film, it’s brilliant, but on this premise, we could never engage with the central character.  Well, perhaps that’s the whole point, innit.

Despite this, there is brilliant acting from Edgar Ramirez as Carlos, in a piece produced in only 91 days and which was only supposed to be a TV mini-series.   At the Sundance Festival it was so well received it had to go large.

The film is released on Friday 22nd October at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse and the DVD is released on 1st November 2010.

Do go, or rent, and let me know what you think.

©Fin Wycherley


Related Articles

  • Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian: “Terrorist? Revolutionary? Or just a cynic? This continent-hopping biopic of Carlos the Jackal suggests greed and ego won out over principle”
  • Alistair Harkness at The Scotsman: “It’s not easy making a film about the life and times of a terrorist, especially if he’s still alive
  • Alison Rowat at The Herald: “His background is left blank, allowing the tale to rush along without pausing for flashbacks”
  • Marshall Fine at The Huffington Post: “Would people be singing the praises of this film if it was equally well-made, just as thrilling and exciting — but was the story of Mohammed Atta? A terrorist is a terrorist. Murder is murder.”
  • Curt Wagner in Chicago Now: “Warning: French filmmaker Olivier Assayas’ mesmerizing “Carlos” is not for passive viewers. At more than five hours broadcast over three nights, it is a sprawling, meticulous history lesson”
  • John Patterson at The Guardian: “Carlos makes me nostalgic for terrorism the way it used to be”

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