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Carlos/Mesrine/Che Part 2 (&3)

The second part of “Carlos” solves the main problem of the first part, at least for a while; while the first part felt like it was trying to cram  way too many events into a short amount of time, “Part 2” spends its first hour on one event that happens over the course of a few days:  the hijacking of an OPEC conference in 1975.  The raid is meticulously planned, and as it is carried out, we learn more about our protagonist than we did in the first two hours.   He converses with his hostages, some whom he respects and others whom he despises, and it becomes clear that he wants to be considered a major political player, as they are; a man of ideas and strategies, a man to be reckoned with.    One of the surprsing things I learned while watching “Carlos” is just how legitimate a goal this is.   In the current day and age of “we do not negotiate with terrorists, under any circumstances,”  it’s surprsing to see heads of state who are ready and willing to negotiate with terrorists, and offer them asylum, and employ them in their own political struggles.

A hitch develops in Carlos’ kidnapping, by way of a freak accident;  he’d planned to demand a plane to fly him to Tripoli, but he killed a Libyan delegate when his team stormed the building, and now Qaddafi, who would normally be an ally, wants nothing to do with him and his hostages.  So Carlos finds himself in a tight spot, and must negotiate his way out of it, a move that infuriates his terrorist superiors and alienates him from the movement.

I said in the first review that I expected “Che” to operate as “The Rise and Fall of Che Guevara;”

I was wrong.   For while Che technically doesfall in “Che Part 2,”  it’s handles to hagiographically that it feels more like a fifth gospel than a modern tragedy.   Tired of the political life we could clearly seem him not enjoying in Part 1,  Guevara goes to Bolivia to foster a second revolution.   But nothing goes right for him.   The peasants won’t cooperate, and neither will the politicians.   The Bolivian freedom fighters argue amongst themselves and often desert.  The CIA sends men to train the Bolivian special forces.   Meanwhile Che is a paragon of patience, teaching, training, healing, offering hope and declaring that he does not value his own life, only the life of the revolution.   He is a saint, all the way up until his death.   This is disappointing to me;  I know enough of history to know that Guevara wasn’t exactly a saint, and I expected to see a more complex portrait of him from Soderbergh.  It’s surprising that of all three filmmakers, Soderbergh is the one who devolves into caricature, offering us more a tribute than a biopic of a man much more complex and contradictory than he appears on the screen.

If Che comes across as too good to be true, Mesrine comes across in “Public Enemy No. 1” as too obnoxious to bear.   Of our three protagonists, he is certainly the worst:   Che is a revolutionary and a powerful political figure,  Carlos wants to be, and succeeds in fits and starts, but Mesrine disgustingly uses shallow and stupid political stances to make himself feel good about the fact that he’s a thief and a murderer.   And to attract the attention of the media, who repeatedly show up to conduct interviews in which he says and does ridiculous things.   It’s appalling that anyone printed any of this tripe.   And yet one has to wonder:  if Mesrine hadn’t lived at the same time as Carlos (among others,) and just shortly after Guevara’s death,  would anyone have taken him seriously at all?  He is riding on the coattails of the revolution, robbing banks to “fight the system” and then buying cars and coats and caviar with the money.

And everyone knows it except Mesrine.   Basically, the second part of his biopic is about losing friends because he’s an obnoxious ass.  First, he alienates Mathieu Amalric, his fellow prison escapee, who just wants to b e bank robber and not mess around with all this political stuff.   Then he reunites with an old friend, who actually is a terrorist/revolutionary, and alienates him as well.   Even his girlfriends grow tired of his ego.   Finally, the cops shoot him down and everyone (at least everyone in the movie theater) breathes a sigh of relief.

After the OPEC hostage situation is resolved, “Carlos” devolves back into confusing events and alliances hardly strung together with a coherent narrative, and follows this trail halfway into its third part, when it becomes an interesting movie again.  In an interview with a journalist, Carlos explains that he fully expects to be shot down some day;  these are the terms on which he’s decided to live his life.  “Carlos Part 3” explores what happens to his psyche when this hail of bullets never comes.   Carlos is a Cold Warrior, but the Cold War is over, and suddenly he’s obsolete.   Nobody wants to hire him, but nobody wants to protect him either.   He’s just an inconvenient relic, like that hutch you inherited from your grandmother that doesn’t really fit in your living room, but there’s no place else it’ll fit.   Watching him bounce from country to country, kind of wishing someone would put a price on his head is intriguing and depressing.   All along, you get the feeling that Carlos wants to be Che Guevara;  he longs to die in front of a firing squad.  But his revolution fails, and the firing squad never comes.   The ending, in which the French finally decide to haul him off to jail, is anticlimactic, but you get the sense it’s supposed to be that way.   Carlos’ (who is still alive, serving a life sentence in France) story ended rather anticlimactically.

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