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March 27, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Carlos the Jackal (Carlos le Chacal)


Published 29 March 2011 by www.artshub.com.au

After literally opening with a bang, director Olivier Assayas’ Carlos le chacal ends with a whimper.

While initially a mini-series, Carlos has been condensed into what is still an incredibly long 2 hours and 40 minutes. It’s also clearly intended for people who are already well-versed in the history of this identity. Commencing with the assassination of a Mohamed Boudia by the Mossad, Carlos follows the life of the notorious terrorist and mercenary soldier, from the peak of his celebrity to his ultimate downfall.

Born Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, Carlos (played by Édgar Ramírez) is arrogant, confident, and alarmingly sure of what needs to be done, even if bullets become the primary method of achieving his aim. At one point, a character tells Carlos that “Saddam knows that when the time comes, you will pull the trigger”. The audience has more than enough reason to believe him. Édgar Ramírez does an excellent job of inhabiting the persona of someone driven by insatiable, almost amoral, ideological perspective. While Carlos attempts to engineer a hostage situation using ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), several people meet the dire end of a bullet as the terrorists rampage through the building. Carlos’ movements are so certain, so unfailingly self-confident, that it’s easy to believe he is a champion for the greater good.

More than thirty years down the track, Carlos’ story has a hint of retro glamour to add to its appeal. Director Assayas plays to this in his stylistic choices; the lens and lighting add a golden tinge, tending to suggest the yellowing effect of age. The soundtrack, a mix of punk, rock and funky retro beats, also lends itself to the era of flared pants, sexism and do-or-die activism.

The languages switch intermittently between Spanish, French, English, Russian, and several Middle-Eastern languages. The locations seem just as varied, darting between Syria, Lebanon, Lybia and France. This succeeds in highlighting the nomadic nature of Carlos’ life and the romantic, if essentially violent, hedonistic lifestyle that he pursued. However when the amount of characters changes just as much as location, it’s difficult to grasp any emotional connection with the film. While Carlos is certainly a carefully documented biography of a terrorist, it’s also quite distant, preventing the viewer from analysing why Carlos’ evident egotism makes him such a magnet for others.

Where this movie does fall down is towards the end. Sadly, the end of Carlos’ life is nowhere near as interesting as the beginning. When his ideological dreams begin to disintegrate accompanied by the added issues of arrogance and drive, Carlos plods along behind its subject. The viewer follows his descent and later years with a growing sense of boredom. Carlos’ end might be true to what is on the whole a fascinating life, but it’s not quite interesting enough to maintain the kind of exposure it endures here.

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