Olivier Assayas Discusses The Theatrical Cut Of Carlos

Last week as I was flying back to Portland from my week of visiting the Big Apple, I finally dug into the latest issue of Cineaste magazine. If you haven’t picked it up already, I’d highly recommend you do so, as it features articles on Claire Denis (White Material), DVD reviews of Criterion’s releases of Black Orpheus, Close-up, and the Oshima Outlaw Sixties Eclipse set. In addition to all of that, there is a fascinating interview with Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours), discussing the production and release of Carlos.

If the Wacky New Years Drawing is to be believed, as well as the folks at IFC, then we’ll certainly have a definitive US DVD and Blu-ray release of Carlos by the end of the year. The only problem with this release is it’s immense length, given the fact that it was intended as a TV mini-series in France. There was a theatrical cut of the film that IFC toured (and is likely still in some cities).

A few months ago, we discussed the prospect of the theatrical cut, and I was curious how involved Assayas was in editing the film down to a manageable length for US theaters. I couldn’t remember if this was addressed in a previous article here on our site, or on The Playlist, who usually has this type of info. I can’t seem to find anyone quoting this Cineaste interview, so I thought I’d go ahead and write this up, as I think it’s really interesting, and important for us to know when discussing it. I’d like to imagine that when Criterion finally releases this as a DVD/Blu-ray box set, we’ll get both cuts of the film.

Here is an excerpt from the Cineaste interview, with Olivier Assayas, on the theatrical cut of Carlos:

Cineaste: Are you happy with the shorter, two hour and forty-five minute version of the film?

Assayas: Well, of course I’m happy with the shorter version. I wanted to do it, and I’m happy I did. But it was a lot of hard work. It was more complicated than I ever imagined. I thought it would just be about cutting in blocks. But it’s absolutely not about cutting chunks of the film. To get it right, we had to reshape the film. Even stuff that looks the same is not the same. We had to make cuts within scenes and within shots. We constantly had to find a new pace for the film that was obviously quite different from the longer version. And the editing process was much more difficult than editing the longer cut.

Cineaste: But you’d prefer audiences to see the longer version? 

Assasyas: Of course – if they have the patience. I know the general audiences would prefer a shorter cut. The thing is that a five-and-a-half hour film is located within a very specific cinematic space. In terms of style and narration, it allows me to go into areas that are completely new for me. It’s a much more satisfying reflection on cinema and the power of cinema. It shows how you can deal simultaneously with small and big issues – small issues being the fate of one man and big issues being the geopolitics of a period. This kind of scope isn’t really possible in a shorter version.

So there you go. I’d really recommend you read the rest of the article, as it discusses in depth, the politics, and truth behind the film, and Carlos in general. I’m a big fan of most longer cuts, but I would certainly agree that shorter, theatrical cuts are an interesting exercise in editing and finding the core elements of a story that will tell it efficiently.

What do you think of this shorter cut of Carlos, in comparison to the longer version? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


  • I think the 5 1/2 hr version needs to be seen rather than the theatrical cut because of what he said about dealing with small and big issues. One of the great things about this film is how well he’s able to tell both stories. In the theatrical he’s still able to deal with the small issues good but the context of the times is not sufficiently dealt with. And the fact that he broke it up into three separate movies makes it pretty easy to watch without getting fatigued.

  • I’d like to see a release similar to the releases of Fanny and Alexander and [the DVD edition of] The Last Emperor, release it as a box set and include both versions.

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