Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)

28Oct10

Édgar Ramírez (Carlos), Alejandro Arroyo (Dr Valentín Hernández), Juana Acosta (Amie de Carlos). Screenplay by Dan Franck and Olivier Assayas. Directed by Olivier Assayas. Rating: 18. Running time: 165 minutes.

If you bother to take the time to watch Carlos, it is probably my duty to forewarn you just how painstakingly slow and long it is. This is a film that in its original, television series version reached a length of six hours, was condensed down into a still-whopping 330 minutes for Cannes, and now comes to us philistines in cinemas at just under the three hour mark. It speaks volumes, then, that even at this relatively short length it manages to bore its audience half to death. Perhaps it’s the fact it was originally designed to be watched in segments that has limited its potential as a film to be seen in one viewing. Its pace is about as rapid as Coronation Street. There’s no desire to ever move things on here, or get a sense of anticipation about forthcoming scenes conjured up. Assayas seems contented to just drag us through the Jackal’s life quite casually, as if we are somehow as enthralled by the brute facts of his existence as he seems to be.

This is to not even comment on the content – so impenetrably assuming in its litter of references to Lebanese foreign policy, the politics of Syria and all other things Middle Eastern. Even a fair grasp of the Israel-Palestine conflict won’t be sufficient to make sense of the causes of events and motivations for action here. Names and political titles flash up on screen every 5 minutes as new key figures are constantly introduced, but I don’t think anybody could say wholeheartedly that they understand their significance unless they were to have a PhD in political history. Of course there was potential here – the one thing that you can draw from the film is that this notorious Venezuelan revolutionary had the strongest of commitments to the impersonal cause he fought for, and that’s more than fertile ground for the making of a fascinating film. But this isn’t the way to go about portraying it. Knock off another hour and speed this thing up, and Assayas would have been onto something.

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