Sunday 7 November 2010

Movie Review: Carlos

Carlos the Jackal: who over the age of 20 doesn't know that name? Who wasn't pouring over the headlines, watching the news as these strange violent events unfolded? The OPEC hostage taking in 1975 was certainly the most notable undertaking of this gentleman but in reviewing his story, he was certainly a busy boy during the years.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, this film captured my attention and held on to it. I didn't look at my watch once or even think about it. The original production was five and a half hours long and was screened in its entirety at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010. It was subsequently shown as a television miniseries on Canal Plus and now both the original version and this shorter version have been released in theatres.

Without being a real spoiler, the real Carlos was captured in 1994 in the Sudan and handed over to the French. He was tried in France for the murder of 2 police officers in 1975, given a life sentence and now remains incarcerated in France. In an odd plot twist, Carlos or should I say Ramírez Sánchez married his lawyer in 2001. In a not unexpected addition to the story, Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela who is well known for saying some... ah, unusual things, has praised Carolos as a freedom fighter.One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.

Freedom fighter, ah now that does make me reflect. Although I found the story engrossing and enjoyed the film, I couldn't help thinking throughout the movie about the point of all of this. What exactly was the point of the hostage taking, the bombings and the killings? Does Carlos sit in his jail cell now thinking that he has made a difference in the world?

In preparing for the OPEC raid, Carlos is teamed with some German underground terrorists. At one point, one of these German terrorists, a woman Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann says that she is fighting the capitalist system. I heard the actress utter these words and they reminded me of other such statements I have heard from various individuals or groups who profess to be working against the system. I remain perplexed by the vagueness of these ideas.

The day after 9/11, my wife and I were sitting at our kitchen table having a morning coffee while the 2 of us poured over the paper taking in all the details about the attack in New York. One article talked about how Osama Bin Laden felt that Western society was bad and needed to be eradicated. I remember sipping this terrific cup of coffee as I looked out through the kitchen sliding door at our patio and our pretty backyard garden. I turned to my wife, held up my coffee and with my other arm swept it towards the backyard and said, "Yep. All this is so horrible, so bad; we need to get rid of it as quickly as possible."

Just what heck did Carlos really accomplish? Seriously, what good came out of anything he did? Did the OPEC hostage taking make anything better for the Palestinians? Did attacking Radio Free Europe in Munich in 1982 change the world? This comes back to the fundamental question of whether or not violence in the long run truly accomplishes its supposedly noble goal of changing the course of history.

I always return to Ghandi. In the film, Ghandi is portrayed as saying that he is not going to force the British to leave India; he is going to make them want to leave India. Forcing somebody to do something is hard but if you get them to want to do it, it's then easy.

Like many films that recount real events, this film ends with a text postscript of the main characters. As with anybody who lives a life of violence, the lives of these characters play out tragically which returns me to the point of whether or not this commitment to the "noble cause" was worth it. I would say no. They failed to attain this vague goal; they certainly didn't change the course of history and they were in no way rewarded for their efforts. In fact, I would look upon all of them as bit players on the world stage who were deluded into thinking they and their actions were far more important than they really were. Ghandi? Now there's a man who truly did change the world. Carlos? Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann? Already lost in time. It is unfortunate however that there are many more who step up to take their places. Violence begets violence begets violence; the vicious circle.

I find this little tidbit about the film to be curious: the budget was $18 million. Shot in seven months, the production took place in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon and Morocco. So for $18 million, we end up with a 5 and a half hour miniseries. What I'm finding perplexing is that we get so much for only $18 million. Another good film was Handsome Harry and its budget was $1 million. Easy A was pegged at $8 million. The Expendables cost $80 million and Salt cost a whopping $110 million with $20 million apparently going to Angelina Jolie. Hmmm, maybe I've discovered where most of the budget goes to; it goes to the big name stars. And I assure you that a big name star does not in any way mean the film is going to be good. Believe me; Carlos is far better than The Expendables or Salt.

Once again, fact is better than fiction. Like the films Inside Job and The Social Network, my vote for the best films or the better films is by far for those based on real stories. Reality makes a great story and all the more so when I myself have actually lived through part of that real story.

Like Inside Job and The Social Network, I highly recommend seeing Carlos.


Rotten Tomatoes: Carlos: 94%

Wikipedia: Carlos (TV miniseries & film)

Wikipedia: Carlos the Jackal


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