How you respond to Olivier Assayas’ three part film, Carlos — a kind of biopic about Venezuelan Marxist revolutionary turned terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (aka “Carlos,” aka “The Jackal” — the latter name never occurring in the film) — will depend a lot on how interested you are in the subject and how you feel about the mini-series format. I am not overly interested in the material and am not a champion of the format. As a result, I’m hardly the ideal audience for the film. The film is a bit of an oddity in that it was theoretically made for TV, but was shot in full 2:35:1 widescreen, indicating there was always theatrical intent. It would undeniably benefit from size. I’ve seen the film referred to as “epic,” which I suppose befits its combined five-and-a-half-hour running time, but it seems to me that “sprawling” is a better description in its 20-year timespan of globetrotting historical events — none of which is all that “epic” in nature. (Interestingly, the film opens touting its journalistic cred, only to turn around and explain that most of what you’ll see is speculation or outright fiction.)
Ultimately, what you have here is a long, well-made film — or series of films — detailing the rise and fall of an increasingly delusional egomaniac. In that regard, Carlos is an often fascinating film, but it’s also one that runs a certain risk in that it lacks a central character about whom it’s possible to care. It’s a lot to ask for you to invest this much time in this character — or it is for me. Let me stress that a lot of my trepidation about the film stems from the fact that I’m just not that interested in the material. That it held my attention for the full 330 minutes (I watched the first two parts back-to-back and the third a couple of hours later), however, says something about the quality of the filmmaking. It perhaps says even more about the performance of Edgar Ramirez as the title character. Check it out for yourself. You may find it more enjoyable than I did.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Carlos Part One Friday, March 1 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District, upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com