Divided into two hour slabs of cryptic meetings, hostage negotiations, and jarring moments of gratuitous sex, we don't learn much in CARLOS, but we 'feel' like we do. The middle slab is the best: Carlos and company take the 1975 OPEC meeting hostage and are supposed to fly to Iraq for sanctuary, but Saddam turns out to have been up to shady treacherous tricks even then. Back when 'we' did negotiate with terrorists letting them steal a plane and hostages meant they'd fly to some safe haven country and usually release the prisoners and plane. But that doesn't last long, and Carlos runs the risk of having a safe country's regime change hands while still on the tarmac, leaving him SOL. If you were wondering about where the whole "we don't negotiate with terrorists" thing got started, meet the guy who ruined it for everyone: Carlos the Jackal, who grabs hostages and demands planes to safe havens the way the rest of us order tickets online, at least until policy changes.
By the end it's a bit of a drag as Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) loses all his friends and allies and the new post-communist world takes effect and there's just no place for an airport-fightin' man. But overall CARLOS is an invaluable peek at the other side of the curtain, which few of us in the States ever imagined. At least they kept their 70s decor longer. And there are sexy girl terrorists whom Carlos sleeps with at the drop of a hat, the most noticeable of which is Nora von Waldstätten as Magdalene Kopp, Carlos' future wife. Their hook-up (below) is one of the first times I've been genuinely turned on by a seduction scene in years. Years! But again, not much reason for it in the long run, except to show Carlos is seductive. You can feel the drag of his attraction to him in Waldstätten's eyes and speech.
What's bizarre is that Asia Argento is not involved. CARLOS is perfect Assayas material and Argento was the perfect Assayas heroine in BOARDING GATE, and like that film and DEMONLOVER, there's that impression in CARLOS of what Steven Shaviro called "Post-Cinematic Affect" (a highly recommended book) and I know there's some critics that seem to miss what 'post-cinematic affect' - is all about, the best I can sum it up is two things, 1) Asia Argento, and 2) international air travel:
Next time you're flying out of the country take stock of all your surroundings, from the drive to the airport to the taxi to your final destination, as a movie with you as the star. How are you 'manifesting' your character during this journey? Do you ever feel like a rat in a TV camera-monitored trap? How many choices, actions, freedoms are available to you within the confines of the plane, the customs line, etc.? What country are you in when you're on the airplane over the ocean? Do you feel like you're just a pair of eyes and ears soaking up prerecorded pre-flight messages, gate departure lounge CNN screens, lines and baggage checks, a feeling of adrift ennui in a preconfigured landscape of retro futurist simulacra? Don't you wish you could escape it somehow? Go off the grid without the grid noticing? Carlos thinks he can, and that's the fantasy in his mind, which differs from what we see. Kind of like Charlie Sheen in those recent interviews -- you can tell he thinks he's coming off awesome, but to us he looks like a manic narcissist cokehead on a manic high detox.
For the rest of us, those who "have to wait in line like everybody else," there's a more passive way to be maneuvered through the turnstiles, a way to tune out and take it all in--from the science fiction weirdness of the traffic lights reflecting on the rain streaked windshields to the lines and customs and clouds and electric grids--the affect/effect you as a subject have on the surroundings. Then imagine you have a bunch of drugs or detonators in your bag, and are really high on glue fumes or a spiked whiskey, then you might get a glimpse of the Assayas effect. Here in big America it's harder to get a full grasp of the international border tension thing, since we only have two and one is good old Canada, and communism has died off for the most part. But especially in the 1970s, depending on where you were in Europe you could throw a ball and then need a passport to go and get it.
Similarly Asia Argento has what Shaviro calls 'direct carnality.' She is "immediately present in the flesh." She "collapses the seductive distance between star and audience, and instead offers us her own hyperbolic presence... Even her irony is immediate, and too close for comfort." (p. 55). Dude! This is what I was circling around, slowly and tenderly and distractedly, in my 2003 praise for her directorial debut SCARLET DIVA (2000).
Postmodern affect in the States--from what I discern via Shaviro's book-- is based around the complete saturation of the image. SOUTHLAND TALES and GAMER are examples of this in Shaviro's book - not dividing lines so much between nations and corporate economies as between screen and person; the image and the 'real' within the film's diegetic framework collapse into one another and the world grows cold and strange and much wider than the cinema has ever before been able to conjure. The post-cinematic affect breaks down difference just as when you're in an airport you're neither here nor there, in a post-cinematic affect you're neither safe nor in danger, neither an actor nor an extra, neither on TV or in front of it. Assayas landed on the map with this in his IRMA VEP which collapsed eight ways from Sunday a visit from Maggie Cheung to a French film studio, and the subsequent breakdown of authority and knowledge about a project.
One of the first sights of this post-cinematic might well be Fellini's 8 1/2 wherein the director onscreen creates the movie we watch as a defense mechanism against nosy producers. Godard makes films that operate on this post-cinematic level, flattening the dimensions of the mise-en-scene, and boiling whole narratives down to detourned Cocoa-Cola ads. And you know why there ain't more of it? Because the terrorists--the cool, sexy, crazy international Marxist-version, not the stubbly and sandy new a-Qaeda-holic version-- lost!! They blew it. The globalizing forces of evil capitalism won. What can a poor boy do? Except sing to karaoke "Streetfightin' Man"? In this paralyzed post-cinematic town there's just no place for a Carlos outside a first person shooter Playstation game.