Epic French film treats "Carlos the Jackal" at Cannes

Thu May 20, 2010 2:29pm EDT
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By James Mackenzie

CANNES, France (Reuters) - French director Olivier Assayas takes on one of the most notorious figures of the 1970s in "Carlos," a five-and-a-half hour epic on the Venezuelan-born revolutionary, shown at the Cannes film festival.

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, who operated under the name Carlos, was one of the best-known of a generation of far-left extremists that included the Baader Meinhof gang in Germany, the Italian Red Brigades and the Japanese Red Army.

The film examines his career as he changed from a young pro-Palestinian radical making his mark as a new kind of urban guerrilla and mounting brutal but not always successful operations before ending as a fugitive hunted down in Sudan.

Best known now through an identity photograph which has become one of the defining images of the era, Carlos at the time was a shadowy figure.

"This question of the charisma of Carlos, which was a weapon or a tool that he used, is something that everyone who knew him talks about," Assayas said after the press screening in Cannes.

His career could have come from the pages of a thriller and the nickname given him by the media, "The Jackal" was taken from the Frederick Forsyth novel of the same name.

Fluent in several languages, Carlos moved easily across Europe and the Middle East, dressing well and enjoying a glamorous lifestyle that was ironically in tune with the materialist values of the era.

"He was a seducer, someone who enjoyed the good things in life and in a sense, these characteristics, which were what made him larger than life, also caused his decline," Assayas said.   Continued...