It seems an odd thing to say but the some of the most interesting things about Olivier Assayas’s 330 minute biopic of the world famous terrorist is what is left out. Which bearing in mind how much is left in (all 330 minutes of them) is not an inconsiderable amount. Starting in 1973 we are presented with a pre-trained and ready Ilich (pre-name change) ready to strike for the Palestinians in the name of International Marxism and a well timed sense of murderous mischief. And the foot doesn’t really come off of the gas for the next five hours, at least not until we discover Carlos’s varicose vein in his testicle and the wheels fall off of his wagon, delivering him in prison. But Carlos tells, in an assiduously linear way, a story of what we know happened, and a fair few educated guesses. What is left out quite often is the why.

Why has Carlos become an international terrorist? Beyond some sense of ideology which soon drifts away we get no insight into his murderous personality. How did he become Carlos? Again we are not shown. A bit of study in Moscow is alluded to, relatively well off family in South America also hinted at once or twice. But what is left out? Tedium certainly is left out, which for a 330 minute film is quite remarkable. But also left out is any mention of the nickname “The Jackal”. Or indeed any artistic context that would link Carlos to The Day Of The Jackal (or indeed Bruce Willis’s horrible The Jackal). Nearly all of the others of this spate of 1970’s terrorist movies (Baader Meinhof Gang, Munich) have found solace in framing devices, and ways to explain the murderousness of their leads. Carlos doesn’t care, both the person and the film. It almost seems as if Assayas is saying “I don’t have time to fit in motive and psychology”. And yet time is all he has over his (and I know I have said it a few time before but it bears repeating) five and a half hours.

This is a mini-series made for French TV, though he has made a theatrical cut too which comes in just under three hours. And I cannot imagine how he lops three hours off of this? Cut off the testicles scene certainly, trim a few seconds here and there, but the most abiding sensation I got coming out of the cinema six hours later was, I wanted more. The film is nominally split into three parts (for the mini-series episodes I guess), though the first two are very tight and breathless on time. The centrepiece of the film, the OPEC raid, takes a good ninety minutes or so, and yet is a film in itself. Lovingly cinematic, its an odd piece in general, and perhaps a further look at how these kind of co-productions can have life on TV and screen. Its great, its long and it makes you fill in the blanks – though you can’t while you are watching it.

All that said, I never thought I would see a film soundtrack the fall of the Berlin Wall with Pure by the Lightning Seeds.

*It is both