The Limits of Control
Review by Michael Edwards
JIM Jarmusch is a director who has retained his roots through a myriad of cinematic outings. His frequent deployment of drifters in strange existential scenarios has never abated, but in The Limits of Control he makes his clearest return to the format yet.
Like his first film, Permanent Vacation, The Limits of Control is little more than a rigidly structured series of set-pieces experienced by one man on a mission. In this instance, Jarmusch regular Isaach De BankolŽ plays a lone man who is visiting Spain as part of an unclear criminal mission.
Each day he encounters an accomplice who provides him with an additional piece of the puzzle that leads him to his destination, but also with a cryptic dissection of art, music, philosophy or music.
The individual set-pieces encompass some wonderfully strange moments. An ice-blond Tilda Swinton cuts a striking figure in one, while a perenially nide Paz de la Huerta adds a layer of sensuality to the otherwise heavily abstracted and intellectualised journey. John Hurt also turns up to deliver a discussion about the term ‘Bohemian’, and what it really means.
In isolation these moments could be incredibly dry, and risk becoming somewhat glib, but the composition of each scene and the cinematography that paints it so vibrantly work to create a dreamlike feeling that turn this from a fragmented philosophical essay into a heady dreamland filled with an array of unexpected rebus-like signifiers, all of which serve to lead us dreamers of the audience to a murky conclusion.
Fans of Jarmusch will welcome the return of this dreamlike quality, but those who know little of his unique charms are likely to come out of the cinema feeling distinctly discombobulated.
The lack of real human interaction in the film not only compounds this sense of dreamlike detachment, but somehow removes a level of enjoyment.
The human qualities of Jarmusch’s characters in classics like Down By Law and Night on Earth are what gave these films their endearing quality and their longevity, and I suspect that the absence of such sentiment here will make it hard for Jarmusch virgins to put up with his posturing for the full two hours.
It’s a surreal experience, and one which genuinely has the power to affect audiences. But, lacking in human emotion and occasionally verging on too rigid a structure and too glib an exposition of its philosophical leanings, The Limits of Control also seems likely to test the limits of audience concentration. It’s certainly not a film for everyone.
Running time: 116 mins
UK DVD Release: May 3, 2010