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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Arabic DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • New video interviews with director Olivier Assayas, Lenoir, Le Saux, and actor Édgar Ramírez
  • Twenty-minute making-of documentary on the film's OPEC raid scene
  • Original theatrical trailer

Carlos

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Olivier Assayas
Starring:
2010 | 339 Minutes | Licensor: Sundance Selects

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $49.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #582
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: September 27, 2011
Review Date: September 25, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

Carlos, directed by Olivier Assayas, is an epic, intensely detailed account of the life of the infamous international terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sanchez-also known as Carlos the Jackal. One of the twentieth century's most-wanted fugitives, Carlos was committed to violent left-wing activism throughout the seventies and eighties, orchestrating bombings, kidnappings, and hijackings in Europe and the Middle East. Assayas portrays him not as a criminal mastermind but as a symbol of seismic political shifts around the world, and the magnetic Édgar Ramírez brilliantly embodies him as a swaggering global gangster. Criterion presents the complete, uncut, director-approved, five-and-a-half-hour version of Carlos.

Forum members rate this film 8.8/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Criterion presents the entire 339-minute miniseries version of Olivier Assayas’ Carlos in the aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 over two dual-layer Blu-ray discs. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz. Episodes 1 and 2 are presented on disc 1 while episode 3 appears on the second disc.

Disappointingly I wasn’t overly impressed by the transfer we get here. Thankfully Criterion at least decided to spread the entire series over two-discs, unlike the Canadian Blu-ray which inexplicably put the entire thing on one disc. I’m sure this helps but there are still problems. The film has a very distinct “blown out” look so it’s possible some of my issues stem from its presentation. I noticed some minor halos in places but this is more than likely inherent in the source because of how the film was shot/presented. What seemed unintentional was the compression noise that shows up. It’s exceedingly obvious in darker sequences which also present some severely crushed blacks and no shadow delineation. Detail levels are also not impressive; long shots look especially smudgy around the edges and close-ups really lack that pop one would expect on Blu-ray for a newer film, though there are stronger moments (oddly the details and textures of Carlos’ jacket during moments of the OPEC sequence manage to jump out at you.) While again it could be part of the intended look I still feel some processing has gone on.

Criterion jams a lot of material on these discs (the first has about 4-hours’ worth and the second disc has over 5-hours’ worth) and each episode gets between 22 and 24 GB, the equivalent of a single-layer Blu-ray disc for each episode, which may explain some of the noise. Still, having said all this, it’s nowhere near as bad as The Last Emperor, which had over 8-hours’ worth of material (8!) jammed onto one disc, and this presentation still blows that one away (and everytime I think of that transfer I realize I should have initially given it a much lower score.) Most of the film still looks pleasant and does look far better than a DVD presentation ever could. It’s still a generally smooth presentation and the colours look spectacular even if the blacks still come off washed.

Its pluses are strong but its weaknesses are still fairly glaring which leaves me a little conflicted. I found myself stuck between giving it a 6 or a 7 and admittedly was leaning towards the higher mark, but when I come down to the fact that it’s not all that film-like, a bit noisy, and a little smudgy I had to go with the lower score.

6/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Much better is the DTS-HD 5.1 surround track included for each episode. It’s crisp, clean, and very robust. Dialogue, which is mostly intelligible (I’ll touch a little more on that later), sticks to the front speakers and, when called for, moves seamlessly between them. The fairly eclectic soundtrack, which contains a lot of punk, can be loud but never distorts and fills the environment. Action sequences make great use of the surrounds and the lower frequency, with gun shots ringing around the viewer, and explosions giving a nice little shake. Movement between the speakers is flawless and perfectly natural, and range and volume levels are perfect, with nothing getting drowned out.

My only issue is the lack of subtitles for the hard-of-hearing. Carlos contains many spoken languages, including English, Arabic, German, Spanish, French, Hungarian, and Japanese. All of the non-English languages receive subtitle translations of course, but there’s no option for subtitles for English language dialogue. The primary language spoken in the film is English and the dialogue is spoken with some really heavy accents occasionally, sometimes in low whispers. I had trouble understanding some of the dialogue and ended up having to rewind scenes to hopefully catch what was said. Though Criterion does provide subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on their English releases they don’t seem to do this for editions that have a mix of languages. It’s sometimes frustrating but was especially so here. It would be nice if they could offer an alternate hard-of-hearing track on releases like this.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion packs on some great supplements for this edition, spreading them over the two discs. The first disc presents the first two episodes and has supplements under the sub-menu for each episode. Episode 1 presents only one supplement, which is the theatrical trailer for IFC’s theatrical release.

Episode 2 has a couple of supplements. First is a 20-minute feature about Shooting the OPEC Sequence. We get plenty of behind-the-scenes footage showing us the filming of the sequence, which was interesting to view; the cameras are of course handheld and they are obviously working around the actors and not the other way around. There’s also footage of director Olivier Assayas and actor Edgar Ramirez talking about the scenes. And over top of this Assayas talks in voice over (in French with subtitles), covering the recreation and the shoot of the film in general.

The next supplement is a somewhat bizarre one, and I’m little puzzled as to why it wasn’t combined somehow with an interview on the second disc. The supplement in question is a selected scene audio commentary with director of photography Denis Lenoir. Oddly it only runs 9-minutes and covers six partial scenes in episode 2. Here Lenoir explains the difficulties of setting up scenes in small spaces, working with handheld equipment, and the type of equipment and film stock used. He spends half of the piece focusing on one sequence, a sex scene between Carlos (Ramirez) and Magdalena Kopp (Nora von Waldstatten) and the thought process that went into filming it. I found it odd that Criterion would include such a short select-scene commentary when it probably could have been easily worked into the interview with Lenoir on the second disc.

The second disc, which features the third and final episode, presents the bulk of the supplements, which are surprisingly lengthy.

First is an exclusive 43-minute interview with director Olivier Assayas where he goes into extensive detail about the making of the film. I admittedly knew very little about the production going into this so I ended up finding some surprises. The big one is that it appears Assayas did this as a director-for-hire and wasn’t something he was actively seeking, the film being a near lifelong project for producer Daniel Leconte. But Assayas still really put himself into the project and Assayas talks about how he wanted to present Carlos and using him as a sort of symbol for the political changes occurring during his period of terror. He covers the long struggle of casting the lead role (which paid off because Ramirez is really incredible in the film) and hoping to not just focus on the “evil” aspects of Carlos, while also not presenting him in a sympathetic or truly relatable way. He also talks about the shoot which wasn’t chronological which is not surprising; the film jumps around from country to country so all scenes taking place in one country were shot there and then they moved on to the next, with Lebanon apparently doubling for all of the Middle East. He then gets into detail about how he works (apparently he doesn’t use storyboards) and then discusses his music choices. In the end this was an absolutely fascinating account of the shoot, completely removing the need for any sort of commentary. Excellent feature.

Edgar Ramirez next offers a 20-minute interview, shot exclusively for this release. Ramirez first talks a lot about the real Carlos and how he views the man (a narcissist). He covers the research he did, which involved talking to those who knew him, and then how he worked with Assayas, along with other little details about the role. He talks about the weight gain he had to do for the film and offers his own little analysis as to how that serves the film. And then finally he talks a little about working with the camera men, specifically during the filming of the rue Toullier murder sequence, where the tight filming of the scene led to him basically “dancing” with the cameraman. Another extensive and fascinating inclusion, perfectly accompanying Assayas’ interview. I was actually upset it wasn’t longer.

After this we then get a 14-minute interview with director of photography Denis Lenoir, who points out he did half of the film (the other half was done by Yorrick le Saux). The interview somewhat expands on the short select-scene commentary he provides on disc one, but expands a little on how they covered scenes and how they did the scenes over and over again to get them from different angles and also goes into a bit of detail how the rather complex rue Toullier and OPEC sequences were put together. Again it’s interesting and worth viewing, my only gripe still being that this and the select-scene commentary probably could have been merged together somehow.

After all of this Criterion then moves on to supplements that work to offer more of a historical context to the film, beginning with a 58-minute documentary called Carlos: Terrorist Without Borders, which was made in 1997 for a French television program called Les brûlures de l’histoire. It basically covers his life from early childhood to his beginnings as a “revolutionary” to his eventual capture. It works as a “greatest hits” type of doc you could say, focusing on some of the more infamous events he was involved in, starting with his attempt to assassinate Edward Sieff to helping the PFLP and Japanese Red Army, the attack on the Israeli passenger jet, the OPEC raid and so on. The piece includes footage of the real Carlos and interviews with some of those that knew him. Though a lot of this is covered in the film the film isn’t entirely true as the opening titles point out, and as Assayas also does in his interview, so getting a truer account is welcome.

The next supplement proves to be one of the more fascinating ones, an interview with former terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein, in a full disguise, recorded in 1995 for a series of documentaries called The Carlos Years. Here he talks about his childhood and family, with the more interesting aspect being that his father, a former SS officer, married a Jewish woman, and judging by how he talks about it it’s obviously had a heavy of impact on him. But then he moves on to when he started to become an activist, then revolutionary, and then eventually terrorist, having helped Carlos with the OPEC raid. He talks about how he was turned off by Carlos’ insistence in using violence, which eventually led to him just leaving and going into hiding. He gives a very blunt opinion on Carlos, thinking he didn’t truly have political motives and was more interested in just building an image. Interestingly he also states that Carlos wasn’t particularly fond of Arabs but only worked with them because they had common interests. He also goes into detail about having to hide and that his biggest regret is he can’t see his children. In all a fascinating inclusion, offering a firsthand account, even if all of it might not be true. Since the interview comes from pieces of a documentary it is cut up a bit and can suddenly cut out and pick up somewhere else. It also goes black on many occasions, and I suspect it might have to do with the fact he was talking over video that Criterion was unable to show. At any rate, whatever the reason for some of the bizarre editing it’s a great another great supplement worth viewing.

After this we then get an 88-minute documentary from 2003 about an incident surprisingly not covered in the film, the bombing at the Maison de France in West Berlin. The documentary focuses a little on Carlos but more on his cohort Johannes Weinrich, who instigated the bombing. While the doc covers this aspect we do get interviews with Carlos’ wife Isabelle Coutant Peyre and ex Magdalena Kopp. But the documentary focuses most of its time on the sole casualty in the bombing, cyclist Michael Haritz, who was there to submit a petition, or something along those lines, against French nuclear testing (it’s more tragic once you realize just how absolutely random the whole thing was since it sounds like he just happened to be standing in the worst possible place when the bomb went off.) Interviews are given by those who knew him, including a friend who was right next to him at the Maison de France when the bomb went off, and of course family. Family members talk about the pain, his mother indicating that his father became obsessed with revenge. This, along with interviews with other victims of the explosion, is where the documentary works best, exploring the pain and grief that follows an incident such as what happened that day. Impressed at this one being included and another excellent find by Criterion.

The included booklet then offers some more wonderful information, starting with a decent if short essay on the film by Colin MacCabe followed by another by Greil Marcus. Stephen Smith then provides a timeline showcasing the most important dates in Carlos’ life along with mini biographies for the various people represented in the film.

The most obvious exclusion is of course the shorter 3-hour version of the film shown in theaters and on demand. I’m actually okay with this not being included as it would have probably served as more of a curiosity to see how this film could possibly be cut down(even at almost 6 hours I thought it could have been longer.) I at least would have liked more details about this version and possibly the distribution of the film, which aired on the Sundance Channel in the full form, and was then distributed by IFC in theaters in both its longer and shorter forms. The lack of anything on this aspect is the only real disappointing thing to me. Otherwise this is a very comprehensive and satisfying collection of supplements.

9/10

CLOSING

In the end I’m really fond of this edition. I was surprised by the film and the supplements are top notch and what I would expect from Criterion. They fully cover the film and also offer some historical perspective. Unfortunately it falls short in its presentation, I suspect because Criterion packed too much on to the two discs ultimately compressing the image maybe a little too much. This aspect makes it a little frustrating but for North American viewers who don’t have region free capabilities this is possibly the best option.


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