A marvellous film from French director Oliver Assayas, originally a Canal + mini-series in 3 x 2 hour parts. Even at six hours, however, the film never seems too long, indeed, in some places it seems too short. In a weird way too, Carlos, an upper-middle class Venezuelan boy with pseudo-Marxist parents (a lawyer) traces in his violent history very much the same transit that other 1960s radicals did, that is, from beginning as a left radical, he transits to being an establishment businessman, who easily sheds the radical politics of his youth in order to make money: lots of money. Of course, the business he's in is terrorism, the murder of innocent civilians for his political clients, but essentially, his story follows that familiar path. In France of course, with its intellectual class still very much in thrall to various failed leftist politics, the story has a greater shock value than it does for North Americans and others, but it's still a fascinating study of a particular individual. The script clearly positions Carlos as a prototypical narcissist, and I'm not sure that's the whole truth of his personality, but it's a good explanatory device, and it fits most of the known facts. Even so, either Assayas (or the film's producers, perhaps mindful of the lawsuit from Carlos, who denounced the whole project from his French jail cell) begin each of the three episodes with a disclaimer letting us know that this is a work of fiction; don't believe it: the film is as true as it gets. In any case, Carlos' lawsuit is kind of schizophrenic. On the one hand he asked to prevent the film being distributed, but on the other, he claimed a share of any potential profits. And of course, the film wouldn't work at all without the riveting performance of Edgar Ramirez as Carlos; he doesn't exposit Carlos's personality in long chunks of exposition, he embodies the character in behaviour and attitude, and it's a thoroughly convincing performance. Listen to how many times Carlos focusses on himself and his needs, dressing up these speeches with ad hoc political motives (usually highly general, and often illogical and specious. I enjoyed the film immensely. Along with Der Baader-Meinhoff Komplex from a couple of years ago, this film gives a clear-eyed view of both the energy and the fateful limitations of the politics of violence embraced by some of the 1960s radicals.
Word of warning: this is a very French film, that is, there is some nudity, most of it male, with nothing hidden, so to speak, and as well, it's fairly violent, so it's not for viewing with kids.