Left: Lodge Kerrigan, Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs), 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 75 minutes. Right: Olivier Assayas, Carlos, 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 330 minutes.

A STAR TERRORIST FROM THE ’70s, a CIA operative betrayed by the Bush II administration, Grace Slick: A trio of disparate lives has been examined in three vastly different ways over the past twenty-four hours. Olivier Assayas’s five-and-a-half-hour Carlos, a maximalist, globe-trotting look at the Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramiréz Sánchez, more famously known as Carlos the Jackal, rightfully received a standing ovation yesterday after its sole, Out of Competition screening in the Lumičre. Played by Edgar Ramirez (who also had a role in 2008’s Che, the last multihour biopic about a South American revolutionary to premiere at Cannes), the Carlos of Assayas’s film mixes libidinal kicks with his far-left militancy. “Weapons are an extension of my body,” he boasts to one of the many sisters of the revolution whom he beds, using a grenade as foreplay.

Several different languages are spoken in Carlos—often by the priapic insurrectionist himself—adding to the film’s epic sweep. Doug Liman’s Competition entry Fair Game, about CIA agent Valerie Plame, however, operates solely in the standard biopic vernacular: talky tub-thumping. Naomi Watts plays the covert operative whose cover was blown in retribution for the damning New York Times editorial her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV (Sean Penn), wrote condemning the Bush administration’s manipulating intelligence to justify the Iraq war. Or is Penn—whose press obligations in Cannes were preempted by his testifying in Congress yesterday, urging the US to expedite relief efforts to Haiti—simply playing himself? “Speak out! Ask those questions! Demand those truths!” a fiery Wilson, lecturing college students about their civic duties, bellows—dialogue similar to what the actor must have said countless times before on Capitol Hill.

Lodge Kerrigan’s Un Certain Regard title, Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs), features Géraldine Pailhas playing both herself—as an actress cast to star in Somebody to Love, a biopic about Grace Slick directed by. . .Lodge Kerrigan—and a mentally ill woman who, inspired by Slick’s music, wants to leave France for Monterey, California, to start a recording career. The doubling and the film-within-a-film become even more mesmerizing when the real Slick appears, in snippets from the concert docs Monterey Pop (1968) and One P.M. (1972). Combining meticulous mimesis, metanarrative, and lengthy, Dardenne-inspired, back-of-the-head tracking shots, Rebecca H. reimagines the biopic as an exercise in giving and withholding.

Melissa Anderson