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  Carlos: A Righter of Wrongs, in a Revolutionary Key. Interview with Daniel Leconte  
 
 12/12/2010 
Journalist, documentary filmmaker, producer (and founder the production companies Doc en stock and Film en stock) and host of the monthly ARTE program Thema - De quoi j'me mêle, Daniel Leconte directed the 2008 Cannes title C’est dur d'être aimé par des cons, a documentary on the infamous 12 Danish caricatures that sparked anger among Muslims worldwide. He has created over 50 reportages and produced over 400 documentaries and narrative features, including Olivier Assayas’ film Carlos, on one of the most notorious terrorists of modern history.
 
“I thought of Carlos because he left an important mark on the 1970s and 80,” says Leconte. “Roland Barthes would have called him a myth of those years. He is the myth of the righter of wrongs, in a revolutionary key. An incarnation of our adolescent digressions. Examining his life helps us understand how we got to Bin Laden – how we got to a world in which terrorism has been trivialized to the point of becoming just another method for making war.”
 
How do Carlos’ terrorist acts differ from those of the revolutionary European parties of the 1970s, or from the new terrorism of today?
Terrorism was professionalized and internationalized with Carlos. The revolutionary European parties were made up of amateur terrorists, who were certainly dangerous, but nevertheless amateur. Carlos wanted to turn his activities into a permanent profession. His group became an agency of mercenaries for the revolution, which ultimately sold its services to the highest bidder. The relationship between Carlos and new international terrorism lies only in its international scope. Carlos brought together Palestinian, Arab and European anti-Zionists from various countries.
Somewhat like Bin Laden, who today calls upon Muslims the world over to commit terrorist acts. The difference is that Bin Laden operates on a far greater scale. For instance, through Ummah, the “community of believers.” By following Bin Laden’s word, its supporters follow the word of Allah. In this sense, he’s very different from Carlos.
 
Can Carlos be compared to another major revolutionary of the last century – Che Guevara?
The two men certainly share some common traits. In particular, the ability to make others believe that they were both at the service of the world’s oppressed. As well as the ability to take center stage and communicate with a modern vernacular through their image as well. But there is a very significant difference: Che embodied the fight of the masses against imperialism, whereas Carlos chose international terrorism.

Is there a relationship between Carlos and Italy?
I think if there was, it was very weak. For a very simple reason: Carlos recruited people primarily in the Arab countries and among Germans. He crossed paths with the French because France was active, militarily and diplomatically, in the Middle East, in Lebanon in particular. And above all because Carlos was initially based in France and his first major act took place in France – the killings in Rue Toullier.

Did he have a role in the Bologna train station bombing?
As far as I know, no. What I do know is that during the years of Carlos’ activities that we cover in the film, Italy was never at the heart of his concerns. Moreover, Italian revolutionaries didn’t share his concerns or his goals.

There is a television as well as a film version of Carlos. Did you create them for two different types of audiences?
No! For a simple reason: Olivier Assayas never thought of the audience in terms of what he would’ve made for television or for the cinema. He simply thought of the film that was best suited to the format requested of him. Though if he did have audiences in mind, he never told me.

In depicting such a complex figure, is it possible for the filmmaker to take a moral stance or is it necessary to be as detached as possible?
I thought we needed to stick to the facts as much as possible, which is not the same as being detached. Ultimately, I trust the intelligence of the audience but I’m aware that by showing violence committed for a cause you risk abolishing reason, destroying that critical eye and evoking emulation. In fact, in the cinema, violence in always abstract. With Assayas’ approach to Carlos, from the point of view of the terrorist rather than victims, there is that risk of losing the “humanity” of the story you’re telling. In order to avoid this problem you have to keep it in mind throughout the entire film. And to anticipate…another film on the subject, from the point of view of the victims.

Are there still many things to be uncovered about this period in history?
Yes, of course. In particular in the archives of the former Soviet Union, to know what Moscow’s role was in all of this. Now that we know the Stasi’s role we want to know to what point the Soviet Union was involved in these affairs. We want to know whether [Yuri] Andropov was behind Anwar Sadat’s assassination. Whether the KGB was actually behind the attempt on John Paul II’s life...

What was Carlos’ reaction to the film?
I’ve never spoken with him directly. He said all kinds of bad things before seeing it. After he saw it, he didn’t say anything – bizarre but true. Yet is this truly surprising from a man who lived his life within an ideology and for whom reality is secondary?