Originally conceived as a TV mini-series, Olivier Assayas' Carlos was re-cut for theatrical release and caused quite a stir when screened at Cannes. In fact there are two cuts, both of which will be available this week to patrons of the IFI: there's a modest, two-and-three-quarter-hour abridged version, and a five-and-a-half hour marathon that will be punctuated by toilet breaks.
At the centre of all this cinematic hoopla is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the 61-year-old, high-security inmate of a French prison who was once the scourge of the western world.
In the early 70s Sánchez, an earnest left-wing radical from a wealthy Venezuelan family, became involved with a Palestinian liberation group and began operating as a terrorist hitman. After an uncertain apprenticeship that involved an assassination attempt on Marks & Spencer's Jewish chairman and firing missiles at El-Al jets in Orly Airport, Carlos (as he liked to be known) hit the big time when he killed two French policemen. But that was only the start of a colourful and nefarious career that culminated in a spectacular raid on an OPEC meeting that led to a tense hostage siege aboard an aircraft.
Mr Sánchez's adventures were many and varied, and all are lavishly and meticulously recreated in Olivier Assayas' painstaking film. Which is, of course, laudable -- but what the film never gives us is any kind of glimpse into Carlos' background, psychology or true motivations. Instead, in a charismatic performance from Venezuelan actor édgar Ramírez, we are given Carlos the dickhead, a vain, histrionic, preening twit whose sole purpose seems to be self-aggrandisation. This is possibly very accurate, but, for all its historical rigour, Carlos remains a flat and blandly well-made drama that resorts too often to mere chronology and comfortably outstays its welcome -- and I only saw the short version.