Carlos the Jackal is a commitment, not an indulgence. French director Olivier Assayas’ monumental work must be seen in its whole to appreciate its parts.
The epic-length production debuted on DVD and Blu-ray this week. I have not seen the stand-alone DVD release, so I can only recommend the remarkable combo pack, a Collector’s Edition combining DVD with Blu-ray. The DVD in this combo pack contains the 165-minute international theatrical cut, which played in most theatres showing Carlos in North America. Good enough.
But the Blu-ray has the original three-part version which played as a television mini-series and was also given limited theatrical release after its Cannes filmfest premiere. It runs five hours, 39 minutes and 36 seconds. This you should see! It may sound like an endurance test but it delivers, in no small part because Edgar Ramirez’s performance as Carlos is a swaggering spectacle.
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The film chronicles the rise and fall of radical leftist and terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a Venezuelan who became known as Carlos the Jackal when he joined European, Japanese and Middle Eastern militants in the 1970s and waged a campaign of violence, murder and destruction in the name of Palestine.
“I don’t think Carlos’ story can be told any other way,” Assayas says on the Blu-ray. Assayas’ all-or-nothing approach inspired him to avoid focusing on just one thrilling episode, such as the infamous hijacking of OPEC oil ministers in 1975.
All three parts open with a disclaimer that Carlos the Jackal “must be viewed as a fiction, tracing two decades in the life of a notorious terrorist.” But meticulous research went into this, and there is a universal truth that informs history. Now we can better understand what happened … and what is still happening.
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