I absolutely love films. Can’t get enough of them. However, I generally hate the locations in which they are first meant to be seen – namely the cinema – primarily because they tend to be populated with the very worst that humanity can secrete.
You know the simpletons I mean; teenagers who see a darkened movie theatre as an opportunity to be as big a twat as possible, or old people who can’t stop wittering on to each other about how difficult today’s crossword was, or the price of cabbage.
When I attended last year’s London Film Festival, I would almost always return home and rant on to my housemate (whether he wanted to listen or not), not about the films themselves, rather about the numerous knob-jockeys I was forced to sit near.
My housemate, presumably out of a sense of crushing boredom, suggested that I should chronicle my time spent at the LFF in the form of a blog. Well, 12 months on and here we are again, the lucky hat that is the London Film Festival is back and this time I’m going to put finger to keyboard and write about the thing.
The LFF actually started on Wednesday, but as I couldn’t get that much time off work, my festival started today with Oliver Assayas’ five-and-a-half-hour Carlos.
Yep, five-and-a-hours. Well, if you’re going to go to a film festival you might as well kick it off with the longest film you’ve ever sat through. The 330 minute running time came as something of a body shock to the octogenarian sat next to me. “Five-and-a-half-hours?!” he exclaimed. I nodded. “What? Five-and-half-hours?! What?!”. And so on. Being about 85 years old, I feared he might die during the screening, which would have proved distracting, but I was more concerned with him shutting the f*ck up, which he did eventually. In fact, he could have died now I think about it as he hadn’t vacated his seat at the end. Oh well.
Following in the same vein as Che and 2008’s excellent Mesrine this titular epic followed the zeitgeist that seems to have developed for chronicling the struggles of revolutionary pin-ups (aka terrorists, aka freedom fighters depending on where you stand). In this case, that figure is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known to you, me and everyone we know as Carlos The Jackal.
Originally made as a three-part miniseries for French television, hence the hefty running time, Carlos follows our anti-hero’s headline-grabbing pursuits during the 1970s fighting for the Palestinian cause, through his bloated time spent as a mercenary for hire and eventual capture on Sudanese soil and subsequent extradition by French secret service agents.
You’d think that a film with Carlos‘s epic length would be a bum-numbing marathon, but Assayas moves things along at such a pace that it feels like a sprint. Much like the Bourne films – which ‘Carlos’ resembles in a number of ways – we zig-zag from location to location, be it London, Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Damascus or half a dozen other cities.
Assayas successfully walks the tightrope Paul Greengrass manages so well of giving us what is essentially an action film but with a documentary realism that lends the film a serious journalistic credibility.
The set pieces are still great though, taut and claustrophobic, especially Carlos and co’s raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna in 1975, which forms the centrepiece of the film and provides its most illuminating example of Carlos’ semi-regular ability to shift his ideological position when the circumstances warranted.
Assayas has certainly picked a stellar international cast to flesh out the multitude of supporting turns on show. However, the film belongs to Edgar Ramirez (who introduced the film and stayed around afterwards for a Q&A session).
Ramirez is barely off screen for the whole running time and exudes paranoia, arrogance, charisma and danger. He makes you understand why people followed Carlos, in many cases until the bitter end. It is a mesmerising turn that deservedly warrants gongs come awards season.
One of the few criticisms one can level at the film is that Assayas only makes a cursory attempt to explain how and why Carlos became the man he did, but this merely adds to the contradictory enigma that is The Jackal.
A cracking start then to this year’s LFF. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get ruined too much by everyone else.