Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 24, 2011

Carlos (uncut version); My Life as a Terrorist

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:27 pm

Taking advantage of some days off from work courtesy of a brutal head cold, I watched the last batch of screeners that were sitting in a box underneath my new Samsung HDTV. Yes, I know, I am really quite decadent.

Speaking of decadent, the last movie I watched was the three-part uncut version (339 minutes) of “Carlos”. I had seen the theater version (2 hours, 45 minutes) in November and can’t really say that the uncut version is that much of an improvement. Indeed, it exposed some flaws that I had not really noticed in the shorter version.

In my review of the theater version, I wrote:

The last hour or so of the film depicts Carlos wandering from country to country trying to ingratiate himself with one “rogue state” or another as either a provider of goods and services or as an instructor in the fine arts of urban guerrilla warfare—or terrorism to be more accurate. In Khartoum, his last residence before being kidnapped and taken to France to stand trial, he is seen as a slatternly, overweight and decadent figure. One imagines that there is some kind of moral to this movie but I couldn’t detect it.

With the uncut version, the sense of repetitiousness deepens. I would estimate that well over half the action following the OPEC attack involves Carlos and his partners meeting either with Arab or Soviet bloc officials wrangling either over an arms deal or their right to do business on some turf that the officials are in charge of. Most of the dialog begins to sound like this:

“You know, our friends in Moscow will not be happy with this.”

Or

“You just make the money available to us and we will make sure that the weapons will be delivered as diplomatic cargo by the Libyans.”

It begins to have all the urgency of one of those reality shows on Bravo, with real estate or marriage brokers. Or even Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”. “Mohammad, you got us AK-47’s that were cheap but they misfired. You’re fired.”

The other problem that is more noticeable to me now is that it is virtually impossible to make interesting drama about a character who does not go through some crisis that forces him or her to rise to a new level ethically or psychologically to resolve that crisis. Carlos goes through no changes in the entire 339 minutes. All he is capable of is bluster toward his followers and disgusting machismo toward the women in his life. After hearing him say for the tenth time that “I am the commander, you will follow my orders”, you begin to feel like you have wandered into a WWII warhorse despite director Olivier Assayas’s efforts to gussy up his movie with trendy ironic touches.

I also found the character of PFLP leader Wadi Haddad increasingly grating. Like Carlos, he only seems capable of throwing tantrums at Carlos when he feels his authority has been challenged, saying things like “I give the orders here, not you.” Between these two, you feel like you have walked into a scene out of movie titled something like “Red Star over Ohio”. You almost expect them to say things like “Vee have ways of making people talk, you know.”

In the uncut version you meet some characters that were not present in the theater version. One of them is the famous French lawyer Jacques Vergès (Nicolas Briançon) who defended Carlos’s wife and comrade Magdalena Kopp who was arrested along with Bruno Breguet before the two had a chance to detonate a bomb at the Paris offices of a Syrian anti-Assad newspaper.

Vergès was the subject of a documentary titled “Terror’s Advocate” that was made by Barbet Schroeder and that I reviewed as part of a 2007 wrap-up (it is available now from Netflix). I wrote:

A documentary on French lawyer Jacques Vergès, who is that country’s version of Ramsey Clark but even more defiant in his willingness to stand up to the warmongering pieties of people like Bernard Kouchner. Vergès, a WWII veteran, was born to a French father who was serving as a diplomat on Réunion island and a Vietnamese mother. He became a lawyer after the war and defended Djamila Bouhired, the woman who was depicted blowing up the Algiers café in Pontecorvo’s movie. They later married and had two children. Vergès, no exemplary as a human being, abandoned his family and returned to Paris, where he began practicing law after a 7 year “disappearance” and on the same basis as years past. He agreed to defend some of the imperialist world’s most hated enemies, from Slobodan Milosevic to Saddam Hussein.

He even decided to defend Klaus Barbie, but on a completely unexpected basis. Rather than trying to prove his innocence, he turned the tables on the prosecution, pointing out that Barbie did nothing different in France than they did in Algeria. One of director Barbet Schroeder’s main goals is to prove that Vergès is some kind of crypto-Nazi. Not only is the defense of Barbie held against him, there is an amalgam made with Francois Genoud, a Nazi sympathizer who financed Barbie’s defense as well as donating money to Palestinian resistance groups that Vergès was defending in court. Basically, Schroeder has made a film that is consistent with the “Islamofascism” narrative spun out by Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens and others.

Finally, some words must be said about the character Hans-Joachim Klein (nom de guerre ‘Angie’), who is played by Christoph Bach. Shortly after the raid on the OPEC conference that resulted in the death of several innocent men, Klein decided he had enough of terrorism and broke with Carlos and his past. Unlike most people who got involved with the German urban guerrilla warfare movement, Klein was a working class youth who joined the Frankfurt squatter movement after running away from home. He also had a Jewish mother who was in a concentration camp during WWII and committed suicide in 1948. One of the things that turned him against Carlos’s group was its willingness to adopt anti-Semitic measures, such as separating Jewish passengers from non-Jews at Entebbe.

After watching Klein’s exchanges with Carlos over these matters in the uncut version, I realized that I had reviewed a documentary in which he had a leading role. Directed by Jessica Yu, “Protagonist” (available from Netflix) is a study of four men whose lives followed the pattern of “hubris” in Greek tragedy. One of them was Klein about whom I wrote:

Klein was the son of a German cop with Nazi sympathies and a Jewish mother who committed suicide in a concentration camp. He was radicalized during the Vietnam War and eventually joined the Revolutionary Cells (RZ), an offshoot of the notorious Baader-Meinhof gang. He joined Carlos the Jackal in the 1975 kidnapping of eleven OPEC ministers that led to the death of three innocent bystanders and nearly his own death by a bullet in the stomach.

Of course, I was mistaken when I wrote that she killed herself in a death camp. She took her life 3 years after the war had ended, a victim obviously of psychic damage.

Although I strongly recommend “Protagonist”, I can also recommend a 70-minute documentary about Klein that can be seen on the Net. Titled “My Life as a Terrorist”, it is structured as an interview with Klein as he visits his old haunts in Frankfurt. He recalls hanging out with Joschka Fischer who was quite the militant himself as a youth. An old newsreel shows Klein and Fischer kicking the crap out of a Frankfurt cop.

There are also interviews with Danny “the Red” Cohn-Bendit, who of course is not so red nowadays. Cohn-Bendit became a solid supporter of Klein when he was trying to come in “out of the cold”. Eventually he served 9 years for his role in the OPEC raid and has lived in Normandy in recent years, working as a farm hand. Unlike Carlos, he is an attractive figure whose transformation would be much more suited for dramatic treatment. Until a fictional film is made on his life, this documentary and “Protagonist” will do just fine.

Watch “My Life as a Terrorist” here.

6 Comments »

  1. as you may already know, I watched the first four hours of “Carlos” in the theater

    I appreciated the narrative style, being familiar with much of Assayas’ previous work but concluded that Assayas, through Klein, in particular, was providing us with an orientalist tale with an artsy gloss

    He seems to suggest that the idealism of the European radical left was destroyed through the association of some of the participants with those nasty, cynical, manipulative Arabs, and Klein is the character that gives expression to this

    Sounds like the final segment merely drives this point home more harshly, if you hadn’t understood it already

    upon reflection, I concluded that Assayas had little interest in the Arab characters, reducing them to stereotypes, because his true concerns lie elsewhere, in Europe

    so, as an entertainment, I found the first four hours quite entertaining (among the fastest four hours I have ever spent in the theater), but, politically, quite objectionable

    Comment by Richard Estes — April 26, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

  2. Louis makes his own capitulation to bourgeois public opinion clear when he, in his own review of “Protagonist” as quoted here, refers to the Red Army Faction as “the notorious Baader-Meinhof gang”.

    But then again, I’m part of the “anti-anti-terrorist left”, so Louis can ignore my criticism.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — April 27, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  3. I am not sure what the problem was. Did I misidentify the group? Sorry. Or did you object to them being called “notorious”? That they certainly were. Maybe it is that I called them a gang? Should I have called them something like the Baader-Meinhof Group instead?

    I think the real issue is that you are a flaming ultraleftist. To get worked up over how I describe these people who helped to destroy the European left is much more of a reflection on you than me.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 27, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

  4. if Judith Lorenz is to be believed, Fassbinder had a quite provocative perspective on the Baader-Meinhof Gang

    in an interview that accompanies the DVD of his film, “The Third Generation” (a much better examination of the motivations for violence among the middle class than “Carlos”), she says that Fassbinder believed that Gudrun Esslin and Ulrike Meinhof were living out some sort of erotic “Bonnie and Clyde” fantasy with Baader, a fetishization of violence provoked by their attraction to Baader, a perspective that does find itself interwoven into the plot of “The Third Generation”

    Also worth noting that Fassbinder has personal contact with Baader back in the anti-theater days in Munich in the late 1960s, just before Baader left to trash supermarkets

    Comment by Richard Estes — April 27, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

  5. It is possible to have a rational, critical discussion from an anti-imperialist and/or anti-capitalist perspective of the actions and politics of groups like the Red Army Faction. But having such a discussion with someone who insists on using the name for them that was made up by the German state or media is not possible.

    For those who are interested in knowing more about the Red Army Faction and related groups, I recommend the German Guerilla web site, http://www.germanguerilla.com/.

    BTW, I am not an ultra-leftist, flaming or otherwise, but you, Louis, are a flameless academic Marxist.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — April 27, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

  6. But having such a discussion with someone who insists on using the name for them that was made up by the German state or media is not possible.

    Okay. Fine by me.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 27, 2011 @ 7:47 pm


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