Reviews

The Myth of 'Carlos'

Jesse Hicks

After a literally explosive opening, Carlos turns into a rush of international plotting, revolutionary speechifying, and guerrilla war-making.


Carlos

Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Edgar Ramirez, Alexander Scheer, Nora von Waldstätten, Christoph Bach, Ahmad Kaabour, Fadi Abi Samra, Rodney El-Haddad
Rated: R
Studio: IFC Films
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-11-05 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Olivier Assayas' near-epic Carlos boasts the tagline, “The man who hijacked the world.” That man was the Venezuelan Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, who in an act of revolutionary bravado rechristened himself "Carlos" -- a single name meant to echo and intimidate. In the early 1970s, Carlos become virtually a household name, the Cher or Madonna of international terrorism. As Carlos, Edgar Ramirez here commands the screen, but the film equally evokes a world of insurrectionist zeal, a particular time in history when a man like Carlos could imagine himself not just a revolutionary, but a worldwide celebrity.

The film, which opened this month in theaters and is also available on demand, begins with a bang in Paris, 1973. A car-bomb assassination kills Mohammed Boudia, suspected leader of the Black September cell responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Then we see Carlos in Beirut, meeting with Wadie Haddad (Ahmad Kaabour), head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Haddad makes Carlos -- at 24, looking like a thick-sideburned Jim Jones – second-in-command of PFLP's European operations. Haddad becomes the closest thing Carlos will have to a boss or mentor.

From that opening, Carlos turns into a rush of international plotting, revolutionary speechifying, and guerrilla war-making. Geography blurs, from sun-bleached Yemen to sun-bleached Morocco. Insurrectionist groups flower and pass. Relishing his position at the center of it all is Carlos. Soon adopting a Che Guevara look, he is all sex and violence; his potency is purely destructive. In an early scene he admires himself wet and naked in the mirror as the television news recounts his latest bombing. Later, while using a grenade to seduce a fellow revolutionary, Carlos says, “Weapons are an extension of my body.” He pursues satisfaction for both his weapons and his body.

This self-interested pursuit doesn't sit well with his superiors -- they want him to take orders -- and often offends his fellow militants. After botching his assignment to kidnap members of OPEC, Carlos has the choice between accepting a pay-off and escaping alive, or dying in support of his supposed cause. Confronted by his comrades, he takes the money, saying, “I’m a soldier, not a martyr.” Of course, when he leaves the hijacked airplane, he's sure to let the cameras capture him in a black leather jacket and a beret, long hair and Che scruff-beard, his eyes hidden behind black sunglasses and cigar smoke billowing hyper-coolly from his mouth. He's an actor, not a soldier, the terrorist as rock star.

“You have done a great deal for your own cause,” Haddad tells him, “You are famous now… celebrities don’t take to following orders.” So Carlos sets out on his own, becoming a mercenary playboy, yet lacking the self-awareness to recognize himself as such. “Behind every bullet we fire, there will be an idea,” he declares early in the film. Yet it becomes clear that for him the bullet is the idea: it is power, its own end. This ideology proves fluid enough to accommodate many masters, including Saddam Hussein and the U.S.S.R. This leaves the film at risk of becoming a bewildering who's who of shady political actors from around the globe, less a critique than a series of name-checks.

As he seeks an identity, Carlos believes himself destined to die early and violently. But fate is not so kind to him. Instead he ages and grays; more and more countries want to arrest him, and fewer want the hassle of protecting him. He ends up paunchy and irrelevant in Khartoum, where he considers liposuction and his new, young bride chides his vanity. “Our death sentence has been signed,” he intones to one remaining ally, still wishing for a romantic ending. Instead he undergoes testicular surgery in hope of curing his low sperm count.

“The war is over, and we lost,” a comrade tells him. But Carlos maintains faith in his own mythology. Only when he realizes that his name has lost its effect does he see also that he has never been fighting for anyone else, only himself.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image