The Limits of Control (2009) Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Our household has a lot less time to watch movies these days and unfortunately, there will not be any change in the situation any time soon. Therefore it was especially annoying that when we finally had time and space to share a film together, we picked something like The Limits of Control. Our intention was to watch something entertaining and good. In the shop Jim Jarmusch seemed like a quite safe bet for the both of us – and the guitar case a suited man is holding on the cover of the DVD, seemed like a promise to me.
The Limits of Control is extremely slow. It is also abstract, only occasionally attached to plot development, certain time and space. After half an hour we are ready to fall asleep. Aesthetically things are pleasing, but I cannot be cheated into thinking that I could figure something out here. Everything just IS. But we persist because we cannot begin a new habit of starting films and then never finishing them (this has happened a little recently and it's not good for blogging).
Half way through the film we have started to argue about where in Spain the film is located after each train ride. It's become more interesting to look for location clues and talk over the film than to concentrate on the protagonist's repetition of routines. I have never been to Spain and Nick has only visited Valencia some 20 years ago, so this made for a passionately ignorant argument. In the end I felt I had witnessed something that passed me by because the timing of the film and my personal timing was totally off. I don't want to say the film was bad, although I cannot recommend it either. Hopefully next time, Jarmusch will revisit his sense of humor.
We all want more from our culture. We want it to move us, make us think, transport us to new areas mentally and even physically. The need to experiment is essential in creating new experiences. But what happens when someone you admire, who's known for pushing the boundaries ends up losing the plot? Jim Jarmusch has taken risks before and come out on top or, at the very least, engaged us. The Limits Of Control however tests one's patience.
Where to start? Repetition when used to create a riff of images can be startling. In The Limits Of Control the repetitive use of image following the main protagonist, Lone Man ( Isaach De Bankolé) easily drifts into tedium. Sitting at a cafe drinking his espresso in two cups, the use of the matchbox with a secret message, his continual Tai Chi exercising in hotel rooms or the Lone Man's visit to the art gallery begin to grate when viewed with no context or meaning. Jarmusch would like to think he's deconstructing the gangster film, a post-modern hit movie with echoes of Jean-Pierre Melville. Unfortunately, the script brings a new level of pretension. When anyone does speak, it's Jarmusch's own thoughts rapping on movies or art or lame humor, usually delivered by the starry extras, who include Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal and Bill Murray.
What almost saves the day is the look of the film (shot by the ever reliable Christopher Doyle), coupled with the musical atmospherics of Japanese band Boris. This, sadly is not enough to salvage The Limits of Control from being terrible. The Limits Of Control could easily have been the existential thriller Jarmusch obviously thought he was making. But you need to create on-screen tension, character, context and meaning for that to work. The Limits Of Control tested my limits to stay awake all the way through.