As movies become tougher and tougher to finance and release, more and more filmmakers are turning to long-form TV. One of the titles that has been a surprisingly strong winner in year-end voting is critic-turned-filmmaker Olivier Assayas’s Carlos, a five-hour French/English viewing marathon which was financed and shown by Canal Plus in Europe and Sundance Channel in the U.S. and released in theaters stateside by IFC Films, which also distributed Assayas’s Summer Hours and learned some lessons from another long-form experiment, Steven Soderbergh’s Che, which sold out the Ziegfeld in New York for a week. “There’s an audience out there for event films,” says IFC chief Jonathan Sehring. Until Michael Winterbottom’s thriller The Killer Inside Me, Che was IFC’s most successful theatrical/VOD release, totaling between $3 and 4 million.
The $18-million biopic of infamous terrorist Carlos the Jackal–portrayed by powerful Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez–has been touring festivals since showing out-of-competition at Cannes in May and art-houses around the country since October. While IFC touted the special roadshow mini-series long version as not available on TV, it has grossed a paltry $126,551, while the shorter 166-minute version has done far better on VOD since October 20 (although IFC does not release hard figures). Canal Plus has placed restrictions and where and when the mini-series can be shown; it won’t be availble on VOD until next year.
Utterly immersive and engrossing, the movie grabbed me with Ramirez’s compelling, abrasive, alluring, horrifying character, who moves from political idealism to complete mercenary over the years, manipulated and financed by top players in several countries; he is admired by the likes of Saddam Hussein. “Weapons are an extension of my body,” says Carlos, who stows his guns with various girlfriends and regards both as sex objects. Ramirez, who packed 35 pounds on to play the gangster as he aged, described Carlos to the NYT as: “a bit of a monster, a bit of a dreamer, a bit of an idealist, a bit of an assassin, a mixture of everything, full of contradictions, and that’s what made him interesting to me.”
At 330 minutes, Carlos follows The Jackal’s criminal career across the 70s and 80s and was shot over seven months in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon, and Morocco, in many languages besides English, including French, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Arabic, German, Russian, Dutch and Japanese. (Here’s Glenn Kenny’s NY Film Fest interview with Assayas.)
The critics’ fave was the surprise runner-up for best picture and best actor (Edgar Ramirez) at the LA Film Critics Association, tied best director with The Social Network‘s David Fincher, and won best foreign language film. The New York Film Critics Circle also named it best foreign film. The movie came in second for best picture and director on the indieWIRE annual critics poll; third for best screenplay, and Ramirez won best actor, beating out Colin Firth (The King’s Speech). Carlos also came in second in the Village Voice/La Weekly Critics Poll, which named Assayas best director; Ramirez came in second for best actor, after The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg.
While the film is not eligible for an Oscar, because it was shown on European television (its Cannes entry was controversial), the long version that was shown once on Sundance Channel over three nights is up for two Golden Globes for best film or mini-series made for television and best actor in a TV mini-series. The show airs January 16.