“The good thing about long films is that there’s a lot to talk about,” says Olivier Assayas of his five-hour thriller Carlos, which makes its Canadian premiere at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The film, which tells the true story of the notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez — aka Carlos the Jackal — is notable not only for its epic length, but for the fact that Assayas shot in as many of the real-life locations as possible.
“Usually, any Western film (set in) the Middle East will be shot in Morocco,” says the director. “Because this was a French production, I could go places Hollywood couldn’t, like Lebanon or Syria.”
Assayas says that Carlos is the most meticulously researched film of his career to date.
“It’s a very thin line between getting things right and getting them wrong,” he says. “You have a responsibility to an audience that’s going to believe that what you say is true, so you have to try to be obsessively accurate.”
The film’s immaculate period textures and smartly curated pop soundtrack do a lot to cement the sense of time and place.
“To me, it’s not a period piece,” says Assayas. “I lived through those times, so for me it is part of my life, which means it is part of the present.”
The most contemporary aspect of Carlos is the way it analyzes its protagonist’s striving for celebrity: in a profession that prizes stealth, Ramirez’s desire to sculpt himself into an iconic figure sticks out.
“The fact that Carlos was a terrorist who was also media-conscious makes him quite unique,” admits Assayas, “but it was also his undoing. “It’s the reason he’s in jail now. His colleagues were creatures of the shadows, and now, they are walking free.”
Carlos checks in at around 5 1/2 hours (there is a also shorter 2 1/2 hours version for some theatrical releases). Surprisingly there are plenty of movies in the same company length-wise as Carlos. Here is a partial list of are some other movies that crossed to the five-hour mark.
- Cleopatra (1963): 330 minutes
- Little Dorrit (1988): 360 mins.
- The Best of Youth (2003): 400 mins.
- Sátántangó (1994): 450 mins.
- War and Peace (1968): 484 mins.
- Shoah (1985): 566 mins.
- Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004): 647 mins.
- How Yukong Moved the Mountains (1976): 763 mins.
- Out 1 (1971): 773 mins.