CARLOS, The Movie

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

Actually, his name wasn’t even Carlos (last name Martínez). He made that up. It was Ilyich Ramírez Sánchez. Also called “The Jackal” (“El Chacal”). But it IS true that he was Venezuelan. And as luck would have it, the actor portraying him is ALSO Venezuelan (yay! What a radical concept! This alone proves this is not an American movie).

“Carlos” is also a long movie, so buy the big container of popcorn to sit through it.

Otherwise, what’s it like? Is it worth seeing? Will I recommend it?

Hm-m-m-m. . . Yes, I think it’s worth seeing, and the older you are, the more you’re going to like it. In fact, for those with knowledge of Latin America in the ’70s, this is a wonderful trip down memory lane!

The producers acknowledge (or warn) at the very beginning that this film should be considered a work of fiction, and on that level, it succeeds admirably as a character study. For aging film buffs who enjoyed European cinema in the Seventies, especially modest Italian films (i.e., those without Marcello Mastroianni or Sophia Loren, et al), there are scenes in “Carlos” that are identical to those films–the clothes, the lighting, the architecture and décor in the background, and any second Giancarlo Gianinni in rumpled Armani or Versace (back when those brands were not household names, even in Italy) will amble into view. If nothing else, these small scenes not only anchored the historical period but connected to an older audience which saw the originals (like me). I LOVED it!!!

Another small bit of historical accuracy is at the beginning of the film, when Carlos and a Venezuelan “chica del mes” (“Girl of the Month,” in English, played by a Colombian actress named Juana Acosta) argue in a chic Paris restaurant about Marxist politics and their importance in “the Revolution.” For some of us, this is just a scream! But of COURSE they’re discussing how important some leftist ideological piece of froth is to “the Revolution” in their country of origin (Venezuela, in this case) while Carlos hems and haws with the wine steward about which Châteauneuf du Pape goes with which course during dinner! THAT is how the Latin American revolutions really happened–in the nicely-appointed livingrooms of upper- and upper-middle class homes in Caracas, Bogotá, Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, etc. When Juana Acosta’s character gets angry at Carlos for his apparent lack of revolutionary fervor and raises her voice, she stops herself and looks around, contrite. Well-bred Venezuelan women do not ever cause public scenes by raising their voices. ¡Jamás! ¿What would the abuelita say?

But this is actually the crux of the film. This attractive man (Edgard Ramírez is frankly hot) ordering dinner and later casually but smoothly seducing women, speaking several languages well, organized, methodical but probably psychopathic takes all that leftist political passion and makes it his career. He decides to become a champion of the Palestinian cause and ends up as the most wanted terrorist in the world.

Flashforward–Eventually the French police caught up with him and he is now in jail in France, serving a life sentence for killing two French policemen. He has a daughter, but apparently she has not followed in Daddy’s footsteps.

Okay, now we have an intelligent, well-educated, hyper-leftist Venezuelan who likes the good life an awful lot, even as he swears to defend the Palestinian cause. Of course, his version of doing it reminds me more of George C. Scott as General Patton, who at the beginning of his biographical film “Patton” explains how you win a war–“You don’t win a war by dying for your country. You win by making some OTHER poor bastard die for HIS country!” The general’s film came out at just about the time that Carlos has decided to go pro-Palestinian, so maybe Carlos saw the movie and took Patton’s (George C: Scott’s) words to heart. This is what I mean when I say that this movie is miuch more fun if you’re older. Certainly in this instance, Carlos’s “modus operandi” is to make other people die for their cause(s), while he’s at the tailor being fitted for another fashionable leather jacket (with hidden pockets for all those fake passports).

I have the impression that Americans were not enthusiastic viewers of this film, and I can only guess at their reasons. However, for a country that took Tony Soprano and his family to heart, rejecting Carlos is just pure hypocrisy. Tony does get the job done. Carlos, on the other hand, suffers from not really having that good old-fashioned American know-how.

This makes the film much more interesting. Tony’s guns are clean, unregistered and function with total precision. He never misses his mark. Carlos, on the other hand, gets stuck with pre-World War II handguns that have rust on the outside, the manufacturer’s name is clearly engraved and then, at the worst possible moment, they misfire. They jam. This is pathetic.

Probably Carlos’s most famous stunt was the kidnapping of OPEC leaders at a conference in Viena, in December 1975. This is where even the producers had bad luck.

It snows in Viena in the winter. Sometimes a lot. Unfortunately, the producers had to work in the spring or summer, and for eagle-eyed moviegoers, the result sort of kills the tension. Everyone’s dressed in wool coats, jackets, sweaters and knit caps. But look at the edges of the scenes and you’ll see flowers blooming, trees in their summer folliage and bright light dancing off Viena’s historic architecture. Kind of a shame.

But wait! There’s worse!
Carlos has diligently planned every detail and has received the financial and spiritual blessing of the pro-Palestinian group for whom he works. One or two members of his group may not be as dependable as a Navy SEAL, especially Nada, a woman (probably the role model for the phrase “stone psycho bitch”), but otherwise, there is a lot of trust and confidence among the “terrorists” and a strong faith that they can accomplish their mission. Kind of.
I use quotation marks around the word “terrorist(s)” because, if these people were locked up in a psychiatric facility, the scariest moments would be when they find the keys to the drug cabinets and dispense anti-psychotic medications to all and sundry. But to be fair, back in the Seventies, a political group taking hostages in such a button-downed environment incited terror among people whose lives revolved around order, careful planning and the obeying of rules.
Anyway, up to a point, Carlos’s plans are working quite well. He is thoughtful and polite to the OPEC delegates, addressing them in their native languages whenever possible, making sure the injured get medical attention and so on. His escape plan works well–he and his group and the hostages get to the airport and board a waiting DC-9 without serious incident. They take off, reach their cruising altitude and head toward Algiers. Fine.

But then Carlos tells the pilot they’ll be heading to Bagdad afterward. How long will that take?

“It won’t take any time,” the pilot answers, trying to concentrate on flying. “This plane can’t make a trip that long. It doesn’t have the range.”

And suddenly, around 30,000 ft up, the mission pretty much comes to an end. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out what happens next.

Because, in the end, there is very little left of Carlos the Jackal. He becomes an old dog with dull teeth. His wife, Magdalena Kopp, gives him a beautiful daughter, whom he loves, and then, finally, she’s had it with the whole man-on-the-run lifestyle. It is not romantic anymore. From exotic beauty flirting with the outlaw life, she becomes The Wife that is in most women, in one way or another–I want a HOUSE, I want nice clothes for my daughter, I want an EDUCATION for my daughter, I want the BILLS PAID ON TIME, I want dinner on the table, and so on and so forth. Naturally, she leaves, with her daughter.

Carlos marries again. No kids but the life on the run continues. His new wife gets just about as bored with that as Magdalena, but, since she’s much younger and therefore much more naïve, she keeps coddling the codger as he gets older. She stands by him in his hour of need when he has liposuction and some other, not specified plastic surgery. She knows her place is at his side, because without him and his secret millions, she would not be in all those pricy haute couture clothing stores she loves so much.

But then the leader of the African country playing host to Carlos makes a deal with the French, and the entire ballgame is really and truly over.

And so is the movie, except for the biographical details to tie up loose ends, followed by the credits.

Carlos is not a philosophical movie, but it is a good character study which also gives events time to unfold in a more detailed fashion than is common in this kind of film. If you are over 55, more or less, there is an awful lot in this film that will trigger memories of your own early days. I don’t mean that men watching Carlos battle age will suddenly be inspired to get liposuction too, but, like it or not, we can understand the vanity of this aging terrorist. He no longer inspires terror. He is terrified of age.

Fascinating, as Mr. Spock would say.

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

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