Today I spent almost half the day inside movie theatres. I started with Korean director Lee Changdong’s “Poetry,” competing for the Palme D’Or. Even though I will confess to being less inclined to liking Korean films lately, this was an important film to watch because it is in competition and also I’ve never missed the 8:30am screening. “Poetry” did not disappoint. As much as I did not appreciate the other Korean film in Cannes this year, “House Maid,” the aptly-named “Poetry” is a winner. Mija lives with her grandson in a provincial town—she’s slightly eccentric, dresses chic and takes a poetry course at the city’s cultural center. In her quest for beauty (since that’s the class assignment ) she finds cruelty and deviance. Top honors for best feminine interpretation for Yun Junghee? Bet. After that, I went right back into the Lumiere theatre for the noontime premiere of “Carlos,” by Olivier Assayas. A friend saved me a seat on the front row and from there the screen looks mind-numbingly big. The screening of “Carlos” on the Croisette is one of the events of this year’s festival. Olivier Assayas, who recently presented “Boarding Gate” here, is one of the best directors of his generation. This is also the first time that a made-for-television film is shown in the official selection.
Going to make it, all the way through to the end of “Carlos.” Someone had suggested watching the first part only in order to get a sense but I stayed until the end–of course. And besides, things pick up towards the end of “Carlos.”
At today’s screening the cast, Assayas, and Thierry Frémaux were in attendance since the noontime screening was the official premiere. I was surprised to see Frémaux, the festival’s programmer, sit through the entire screening. The Cannes Festival would be different without Thierry Frémaux in it. Beside the fact that he runs the selection process, Frémaux has a particular kind of personality—if you ever saw him doing translator duties when foreign directors are being introduced on stage, you will know what I mean. The guy’s sardonic manner adds great fun to the Un Certain Regard premieres, which he usually emcees himself.
When the lights came on after the screening, Frémaux stood next to “Carlos” actor Edgar Ramirez and Olivier Assayas, beaming like a daddy showing off his newborn. If you should ever be confronted by Frémaux and aren’t sure what to say, just scream “Aller L’OL!” really loud and you’ll be appreciated right away.
For this major film director Olivier Assayas spent two years researching his subject with the help of the reporter Stephen Smith. The film costs fourteen million euros to produce. “Carlos” was slow and deliberate at first, and then things picked up about halfway through. A spate of movies have recently treated the terrorist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Think “Baader Meinhof Komplex,” “Terror’s Advocate,” “Munich,” Marco Bellochio’s “Good Morning, Night” and now “Carlos,” about the famous terrorist Carlos the Jackal. My one and only worry going in was that Assayas would overtly glorify the terrorist’s life. Fortunately, this does not happen, and also there’s no rewinding of the tape, here’s young Illich (Carlos’s birth name, after Lenin) playing with a sock puppet at age 4 in Venezuela, etc. Assayas takes us directly into Carlos the Jackal’s first stages of a twenty-year long career as terrorist and so-called revolutionary.
Carlos, a Venezuelan citizen and a convert to Islam, has really said: “From now on terrorism is going to be more or less a daily part of the landscape of your rotting democracies.” I will try and write a review of the movie separately but I will say that whatever shadows existed in my mind about Carlos’ life before seeing the film today still exist tonight. To me, people like Carlos are first and foremost products of the era they were born in, except that people like Carlos had a nihilistic and utopic bent to boot, and a family background that would naturally orient him towards political activism. I thought “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex” conveyed more the tension and violence that existed among the various terrorist cells that are behind some of the deadliest attacks to occur in the 70s and 80s in Europe. Today’s “Carlos” by Olivier Assayas demonstrates, among others, the vitality but also the lack of discipline and organization in Carlos’ terror cell. The screwups pile up quickly, but Edgar Ramirez’s Carlos never loses his resolve—quite extraordinary, indeed, this commitment to armed militancy. And while he appears to be a peace and human-loving individual at first, the psychopath that is Carlos the Jackal comes into clearer focus as the film progresses. Since the real Carlos is behind bars, French radio RTL interviewed him on Wednesday and the Jackal was upset. He said, “the theme of this program is Carlos. It’s a biographical issue. They [the filmmaker / producers] did not even contact my lawyers, my family. They didn’t seek information from us. It’s regrettable.” A shorter, two-and-half hour-long version is being prepared for the film’s eventual worldwide theatrical release.
One hour later, I hopped in line for the new Daniele Luchetti movie, “La Nostra Vita.” Bravo, Daniele! Father of two, loses his wife as she gives birth to third son. An almost idyllic, though ordinary, life completely torn upside down in a matter of one hour. Devastating.