Tuesday 18 May 2010

The Limits of Control (2009)

Modern art and molecules. Imagination. Perception. Schubert. The movies and dreams. You can't accuse Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control (2009) of a lack of ambition (or pretension). But, though it takes a while to adjust yourself to the rhythm of this self-consciously enigmatic work, its verbal and visual refrains gradually cast a spell. (Christopher Doyle's wondrous cinematography helps.) Jarmusch plops his impassive hero (Isaach De Bankolé, superb) down in three Spanish locales - Madrid, Seville and Almeria - where he moves through encounters with a batch of oddballs (John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and Gael Garcia Bernal amongst them), receiving cryptic missives from each. Only at the end is his mission (more or less) revealed to us. "It's a game," muses Swinton's character at one point. She's talking about Welles's The Lady From Shanghai (1947), but that's not the only time that The Limits of Control turns around to comment on itself. (It's also amusing to note how, between her cameo here and her work in I Am Love (2009), Swinton is becoming a conduit for every auteur's favourite movie memories.) Stylish, confounding, profound and absurd, this is a great movie. (I think.)


  1. "(I think)" :)))

    I enjoyed this film much more than I thought I would, given the universally unfavorable reviews. Nor is it, in fact, typical Jarmusch (I like him a lot, especially his 80s stuff). But yes, rhythm is what drives it, and I reckon that if you "transcend the need to understand" (to quote from a DeLillo story I read recently), it becomes a gorgeously unhurried visual feast, a surface to be lingered on. I'm with you on De Bankolé, whose understated performance and stylish looks are among the central pleasures of the film. The music - mostly the Boris / Sunn O))) album, which I think is excellent - fits the mood brilliantly.

    Now for the drawbacks: while I like the *idea* of the rhythmically reintroduced, absurd encounters with the supporting characters, the actual scenes give me much less pleasure (John Hurt being the exception, perhaps). My favorite bits are De Bankolé on his own, preferably in a gallery, or riding in the elavator, or drinking coffee. What really got on my nerves, though, was the ending, which even Murray couldn't save for me.

    Quite possibly I'm also missing out on the reputedly rich tapestry of cinematic refs, always a Jarmuch treat to those in the know. For me, Tarkovsky was the overarching directorial presence, especially the initial ride into Madrid, which reminded me heavily of the beginning of "Solaris".

    Anyway, glad you got to see it finally, and I'm happy to have at least some of my feelings re this film coincide with yours (against the dominant tendency, it appears).

  2. Yes, I should have commented on the score which was excellent.

    Of the ending, Geoff Andrew avers: “the film slowly but surely closes in on its target: American neo-con thinking.”

    Oh dear, that again!

    I always like films that take the time to show characters on their own, so I thought those sequences worked really well too. It’s true that some of the encounters work better than others - rather as in BROKEN FLOWERS. I enjoyed Hurt’s scene, and the Swinton films-as-dreams riff resonated with me for the following reason: I recently had the experience of dreaming that I was watching a film I’ve read about but haven’t yet seen even a clip of: Clare Denis’s WHITE MATERIAL. This also stars de Bankolé … Very odd!