Sunday, March 13, 2011

Carlos (TV Miniseries)



Known as Carlos the Jackal, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez is probably one of the most famous terrorists who is known for creating chaos for communist causes as well as supporting Palestinian liberation. In 1975, Carlos killed three people in Vienna during a raid at the OPEC headquarters where he achieved notoriety. When he was finally captured in 1994 in Sudan and given a life sentence in France, he remains an interesting figure in the world of pop culture. With books written about him along with films including Christian Duguay’s 1997 film The Assignment. Stories about Carlos the Jackal’s exploits have always been interesting. Now, his story is being told once again for a 3-part, five-and-a-half-hour TV-miniseries that is told by one of France’s premier directors in Olivier Assayas simply called Carlos.

Directed by Olivier Assayas, Carlos tells the story of Carlos’ rise and fall as a notorious terrorist in the 1970s. Written by Assayas, Dan Franck, and Daniel LeConte. The film explores Carlos and his exploits along with how he became the most-wanted man in the world. With Edgar Ramirez in the title role, the mini-series also stars Alexander Scheer, Nora von Waldstatten, Ahmad Kaabour, Christoph Bach, and Julia Hummer. Carlos is an extraordinary, captivating, and mesmerizing miniseries from Olivier Assayas.

Part 1

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez arrives to Beirut to meet PFLP leaderWadie Haddad (Ahmad Kaabour) following the death a Palestinian group leader in Paris by a secret Israeli counter-terrorist group. To work under the guidance of a man named Andre (Fadi Abi Samra), Carlos carries out his first mission where he wounds an Israeli politician in London. Though the mission wasn’t a total failure, Carlos creates buzz following the bombing of a Jewish business building while helping out the Japanese Red Army with their plans. Notably an attack at an embassy in Amsterdam where Carlos’ growing notoriety attracts of the East-German resistance group called the Cells.

After a few failed attacks on an Israeli plane, Carlos hides out in Paris with a student named Anselma (Yanillys Perez) while Andre has been captured by the Mossad. News of Andre’s capture brings panic while Carlos is finally captured on photo during a meeting with Andre as a French police supervisor named Commissaire Herranz (Olivier Cruveiller) attempts to capture him. Instead, Carlos makes a notorious escape to South Yemen where he meets Haddad along with other revolutionaries including Cell members Brigitte Kuhlmann (Katharina Schuttler), Boni (Aljoscha Stadelman), and Angie (Christoph Bach). It is around this time Carlos would plan his next move with Angie, a German revolutionary named Nada (Julia Hummer), a man named Khalid (Rodney El Haddad), and two volunteers for a raid in Vienna.

Part 2

It’s December 21, 1975 in Vienna Austria where Carlos, Khalid, Angie, Nada, and two volunteers are ready to raid the OPEC headquarters during an international meeting. Their target is the Saudi Arabian oil minister Yamani (Badih Abou Chakra) and others who are enemies of Palestine. With a few people including a Libyan official killed, the raid is a success at first while Carlos succeeds in getting a DC-9 plane for his team and hostages to fly to Algiers as their main destination is Baghdad. The Austrians give in though Angie remains ill from the wounds he received from the raid while the plan to go to Baghdad fails while Carlos refusal to kill hostages due to the Algerians’ offer makes the mission a failure.

Carlos however, becomes infamous for the raid though Haddad expels him from the group. With help from German Cells organizer Johannes Weinrich (Alexander Scheer), Carlos manages to make plans for his group. They later acquire the services of Ali (Talal Jurdi) during a meeting in Iraq with Iraqi military officials and KGB head Iouri Andropov (Anton Kouznetsov). Carlos also meets Weinrich’s girlfriend Magdalena Koop (Nora von Waldstatten) who would become Carlos’ second wife. Thanks to Ali’s connections, Carlos finds help in Syrian as Colonel Said (Fadi Yanni Turk) and an air force general (Antoine Balabane) give him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Part 3

Organizing a base in Budapest in 1979, Carlos, Magdalena, Weinrich, and Ali plan their next series of move with help from the KGB, various Islamic organizations, and the East German Stasi police. Though things start off slow much to Magdalena’s frustrations, the assassination of French ambassadors in Arabian countries were a success. Another attack on an ambassador in Paris in 1982 from Magdalena and Bruno Breguet (Guillaume Saurrel) becomes a failure as the two are arrested. Carlos responds with a series of attacks as his notoriety grows internationally. While Magdalena is released after three years and goes to Syria to meet Carlos. Everything changes with the birth of their daughter Elba a year later while the fall of Communism in the late 1980s forces Carlos to leave Syria.

Eventually finding asylum in Sudan, Carlos and Weinrich meet with military and revolutionary leaders about what to do next. With Carlos’ new girlfriend Lana (Razane Jammal) joining Carlos in Sudan, the build-up for new ideas become difficult to stage. Even as associates like Magdalena have already left while a traitor would reveal Carlos whereabouts. It is around this time General Philippe Rondot (Andre Marcon) would make his move to capture Carlos.

The miniseries is a classic rise and fall tale of one of the most notorious figures in the world of terrorism. Still, it is a fascinating portrait of a man who is a terrorist from one perspective while some might see him as a revolutionary. What Olivier Assayas and his co-screenwriters do is create a humanistic portrait of a man who is complex in the way he plans his attacks as well as the way he lives his life. While each part of the film reveals that it’s just a dramatic interpretation of Carlos and his exploits that is based on historical research. There’s no denying that despite Carlos’ actions as a terrorist, he is one fascinating individual.

The screenplay that Assayas, Daniel LeConte, and Dan Franck created for each episode is definitely wonderful for a five-and-a-half hour story. The structure of the script is truly fascinating in the way not only develops Carlos but also his surroundings and the people he’s with. The first part is about Carlos’ development as a soldier who starts out small with various bombings and other things. Along the way, he would meet people that would guide him or become accomplices. Notably Johannes Weinrich, Hans-Joachim Klein aka “Angie”, and Waddie Haddad. Also explored is Carlos’ fascination with women where it would be prevalent throughout the entire series since he would have affairs with lots of women.

In the second part, it begins with the OPEC raid where Carlos would become infamous as it reveals the plan going into fruition and later falling apart. There, he would start his own organization while his name becomes bigger as he would plan his own ideas. It is where he would meet his future wife Magdalena and another associate named Ali. Through Ali, Carlos would meet the people who would help fund him while becoming a secret soldier for the socialist movement.

The first two parts is about his rise as a terrorist through the eyes of Western imperialist and Zionist organizations. Then comes the third part which has a different rhythm and tone from its predecessors where it’s a slow build to Carlos’ fall. Like the Cold War itself, Carlos’ fall and capture ends his career not with a bang but a whimper. What happens is that when the world starts to change and socialist/communist revolutions start to fall. Carlos’ services aren’t needed as he struggles to find something to fight for where he goes to another Islamic revolution. Yet, that revolution is far different from what the Palestinian and other Islamic revolutions were in the 1970s. For Carlos, it becomes harder to try and organize things to the point where his inactivity would caught up with him as he betrayed by one of his associates.

Assayas’ direction is truly the highlight of the project in the way he captures the events that happen throughout the duration of the miniseries. Even in creating a sense of dread for the bombings and actions that Carlos does along with the idea of being inside of the building during the OPEC raid. While Assayas goes into various styles for presenting the many scenes of the film as well as each part of the miniseries. There is something intriguing about how Assayas presents Carlos and the situations that happens throughout. Even in using archival news footage from France and Europe to help tell the story of Carlos’ reign of terror. For the first part, Assayas creates an entertaining yet compelling drama with elements of violence and humor as it builds up to the OPEC raid.

For the scenes at the OPEC raid and the scenes on the plane, Assayas goes for a cinema verite style. Whereas the first part was mostly straightforward with bits of hand-held cameras for some of the action scenes. The second part for the portion of the OPEC raid and plane scenes has more hand-held cameras while the camera is at the center of being in the raid. It’s as if, it plays as another soldier where it is a remarkable end to the first half of the miniseries. By the time Carlos is expelled from Haddad’s group, the film becomes a study of character as it follows what Carlos is trying to do next. The second part ends with an abrupt ending of sorts where it would lead to what Carlos would do for the late 70s and 1980s.

In the third part, Assayas definitely decides to slow things down as if he’s creating something that is to build a moment where something is going to fall apart. At first, it plays up as this entertaining yet suspenseful piece where bombings are taking place and plans are going along. Then, the pace and tone of the film changes once Carlos has a family and the fall of Communism erupts. What would happen is that it would lead to an ending that is anti-climatic which works because of the way Carlos was captured and how he was taken to French authorities. The overall result is definitely a compelling drama from Olivier Assayas who definitely steps up his game as a director.

Helping to create the film’s colorful yet entrancing look are the cinematography of Denis Lenoir and Yorick Le Saux. Lenoir and Le Saux create a look that creates different moods for many of the scenes and time periods that goes on in the film. For the first part in Paris, there is a straightforward, colorless look while the scenes in the Middle East have a sunny yet grainy look throughout the entire series in the daytime. For the rest of the scenes in Europe, the photography has a look where the daytime scenes are a bit grey but with dashes of sunlight while the nighttime scenes are truly eerie with little lights. A lot of the cinematography is stylized but works to convey the moods of each sequence that plays out during the film.

Editors Luc Barnier and Marion Monnier do an excellent job with the film’s editing in creating suspenseful yet eerie cuts for many of the film’s action scenes including the OPEC raid. For the dramatic moments, Barnier and Monnier allow the scenes to just let go while playing up to the intensity of some of the film’s sex scenes. The transitions from one part to another are done with great cuts whether it’s an invisible cut for the first part or something abrupt in second one. The editing is truly phenomenal.

Production designer Francois-Renaud Labarthe and art director Bertram Straub do a fabulous job with the film‘s art direction from the creation of cars from the 1970s and 1980s to the homes that the characters live in during those different periods. Costume designer Francoise Clavel does a great job with the costumes of the film that moves from period to period from the bellbottoms, satin dresses, and all sorts of clothes worn during the 70s to the frazzled look of the early 90s as Carlos is unraveling. Visual effects supervisor Thierry Grizard and Mikael Tanguy does a very good job with the small visual effects created for the film such as the attack on the planes from terrorists in the first part of the film.

Sound editors Nicolas Cantin and Nicolas Moreau do a wonderful job with the film’s sound from the use of explosive sounds to create the feel of terror along with the gunshots during the action scenes. Even in the dramatic scenes to create the tension that surrounds everything during the third part of the mini-series. The film’s soundtrack consists of mostly post-punk and indie music from acts like Wire, New Order, the Feelies, and a Certain Ratio along with cuts by Los Lobos, the Lightning Seeds, Robert Fripp & Brian Eno, and La Portuaria for the ending of the two parts of the film. The soundtrack, that also includes South American folk music, is a very unconventional choice to play up to Carlos’ life while it works due to the intensity and emotion it brings to the story.

The casting by Antoinette Boulat and Veronika Varjasi is phenomenal with an ensemble that is truly spectacular for the array of episodes presented for the mini-series. In the first part, there’s memorable performances from Fadi Abi Samra as Carlos’ first superior Michel “Andre” Moukharbel, Yanillys Perez as Carlos’ first mistress Anselma, Hiraku Kawakami as a Japanese contact named Furuya, Ryosuke Sato as a Japanese Red Army leader, and Olivier Cruveiller as Commissaire Herranz, the man who would first discover Carlos. In the second part, there’s memorable performances from Badih Abou Chakra as the Saudi Arabian oil minister, Alejandro Arroyo as the Venezuelan minister Carlos befriends at the OPEC raid, and Anton Kouznetsov as KGB head Iouri Andropov.

For the third part, there’s Guillaume Saurrel as Bruno Breguet, Jean-Baptiste Montagut as a soldier of Carlos named Erik, Jule Bowe as a female soldier, Razane Jammal as Carlos’ Syrian/Sudan-period mistress Lana, Peter Scherer & Jozsef Toth as Hungarian agents, and Andre Marcon as General Philippe Rondot, the man who would capture Carlos. Other notable small performances throughout the entire miniseries includes Juana Acosta as Carlos’ first wife, Katharina Schuttler as East German Cells organizer Brigitte Kuhlmann, Aljoscha Stadelman as Cells soldier Boni, Rami Farah & Zeid Hamdan as two of Carlos’ men at the OPEC raid, Fadi Yanni Turk as Colonel Said, and Antoine Balabane as the Syrian air force General who gives Carlos something he couldn’t refuse.

Rodney El Haddad is very good as Anis Naccache aka Khalid, Carlos’ second-in-command during the OPEC raid who feels compromised when Carlos doesn’t go further with the plans. Julia Hummer is great as the psychotic Gabriele Krocher-Tiedemann aka Nada, a soldier who goes to any extremes to get things done. Ahmad Kaabour is superb as Wadie Haddad, Carlos’ mentor who shows him the ropes only to be upset by Carlos’ sudden celebrity as well as the later failures he created without Carlos. Christoph Bach is also good as Hans-Joachim Klein aka Angie, a revolutionary who helps Carlos in the OPEC raid only to disappear when things become tough.

Talal Jurdi is wonderful as Kamal al-Issawi aka Ali, the man who would introduce Carlos to the Syrians and help him organize attacks. Alexander Scheer is amazing as Johannes Weinrich, an East German Cells leader with connection to the Stasi who helps Carlos out in organizing plans while becoming burned out and unsure by the time the 1990s happen. Nora von Waldstatten is phenomenal as Magdalena Kopp, the woman who would Carlos’ second wife as she starts out as a determined revolutionary only to become a concerned mother for her child as she is truly spectacular in every scene she’s in.

Finally, there’s Edgar Ramirez in what is definitely the best role of his career as Carlos. Ramirez really brings an element of cool to a man that is truly one of the most controversial and hated figures in the world. Yet, there is also charm to the way he plays Carlos as he definitely sells the role as a ladies man. When he’s Carlos the terrorist, Ramirez brings the man to life as if he’s in charge and the center of attention while not hesitating to kill. Ramirez also succeeds in playing the role in various languages such as English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, and various Arabic languages. It’s truly a tour-de-force performance as Edgar Ramirez has officially arrived.

Carlos is an extraordinary miniseries from Olivier Assayas featuring a towering performance from Edgar Ramirez as the infamous terrorist. For anyone interested in the story of Carlos the Jackal will no doubt see this as a hypnotic yet fascinating portrait of one of the most menacing figures in the world. For fans of Olivier Assayas, this is truly one of his best projects to date as it shows lots of ambition of how he can tell a story. In the end, Carlos is a big yet brilliant miniseries from Olivier Assayas.

Olivier Assayas Films: (Disorder) - (Winter’s Child) - (Paris Awakens) - (A New Life) - (Cold Water) - (Irma Vep) - (Late August, Early September) - (Sentimental Destinies) - (Demonlover) - Clean - (Boarding Gate) - Summer Hours - (Something in the Air) - Clouds of Sils Maria

© thevoid99 2011

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