20 July 2009

The Limits of Control

Ok, I've been saving up things to post since the middle of July, but somehow there never was the time. I'm cheating and back-dating...

The 2009 New Zealand International Film Festival is almost over for another year. My effort of eleven films is, I think, the most I have managed at a film fest before. All the films we saw were great - not a dud among them.

But, the one that blew my mind (and this is strange, because its a film without a real plot) was 'The Limits of Control'. I *adored* this film. Reviews for it are hugely mixed - one reviewer actually says "watching paint dry is more exciting". So, why did this film appeal to me so much??

I got on the net and did some searching - I wanted to know more about the film, and what others thought of it.

Paste Magazine summaries nicely:
The central character in Jim Jarmusch's latest is technically called Lone Man, but his name might as well be Mysterious Badass. Like Forest Whittaker in Ghost Dog, the Lone Man is a disciplined outsider, practicing tai chi and refusing sex. "The universe has no center and no edges," an equally anonymous bossman named French tells him in French (the Creole translator named Creole comically refusing to translate), sending De Bankolé careening across Spain on an unspecified mission.

As the Badass—an existential agent, get it?—does his work, he has self-referential encounters with other anonymous figures: Nude (a very naked Paz De La Huerta), Blonde (Tilda Swinton), Mexican (Gael Garcîa Bernal), American (Bill Murray). Marbling the violent tension of Ghost Dog, possibly Jarmusch's best film, with the pretentious conversations of Coffee and Cigarettes, arguably his worst, The Limits of Control will satisfy a certain kind of film freak.

...It's that kind of film, existing more in dialogue with the eternal cinema (and greater culture) than the audience taking it in.

Which is to say, it’s also exquisite. Nearly every shot by Jarmusch and cinematographer Christopher Doyle is breathtaking. Every lobby the Badass passes through is distinct, each stairwell visually engaging. Likewise, Jarmusch's plot comes with a loaded elegance. Like the Lone Man himself, Jarmusch leaves no clues. One is expected to surrender to De Bankolé's righteousness, a stand-in for Jarmusch, trusting him to deliver resolution.

With a chiseled face as distinct as any of the rooms Jarmusch and Doyle have picked for him, De Bankolé's strong, quiet Lone Man isn't strong enough to bear the episodic non-plot. "Watch out for the guitar," he’s told, and is soon studying cubist six-strings in a Spanish museum (before John Hurt shows up to give him one of his own).

"Watch out for the girl," says someone else. "She's a criss-cross." And perhaps she is. Though naked, De La Huerta serves as the film's dressing, the trappings of convention. But Jarmusch's payoff is as austere and plain as his plot. At least the Badass gets his job done.

Dose.Ca had some nice insight into some of the references made in the film (but still only gave it 3.5 stars):
...Swinton is one of a number of famous faces who arrive, speak their piece (often asking, "Are you interested in . . . ?") and depart, sometimes leaving behind a coded slip of paper in a matchbox. Others through the revolving door include John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal and Hiam Abbass. Murray has a small part indeed, and his character's toupee an even smaller part. The credits do not even bother with names: Swinton is "Blonde," Hurt "Guitar," Murray "American" and so on.

Other names are dropped in rather than dropped out. The film's title, for instance, comes from a 1975 essay on mind control by William S. Burroughs. The movie opens with a quote from French poet Arthur Rimbaud's The Drunken Boat. And a prominent sign reading "La vida no vale nada" (life is worth nothing) turns out, upon Googling, to be a 1955 film starring Pedro Infante, and named after an earlier song. Like its characters, furtive men with instrument cases or inscrutable women in unnecessary rainwear, The Limits of Control contains wheels within wheels.

Swinton also references Hitchcock's Suspicion, which might be a clue for unlocking this film. Imagine if you took one of Hitch's classics and scrubbed it of all plot, so that only the mood of foreboding remained, untethered by anything so pedestrian as a storyline. (Jarmusch himself has said: "I always wanted to make . . . a film with suspense but no drama.")...

AV Club had this to say:
In Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits Of Control, Isaach De Bankolé travels quietly through Spain in a crisp blue-magenta suit; his endgame isn’t known until the final stop, but it’s safe enough to assume that he’s a professional of the criminal sort. Each person he meets along the way gives him only the information necessary to take his next step, and the audience doesn’t even get to share in those breadcrumbs, so it knows even less than De Bankolé. Point being, The Limits Of Control is about the journey, both through the varied landscape and architecture of Spain, and through the narrow inventory of Jarmusch’s thematic concerns, from the dislocation and culture clash of a stranger in a strange land to the dismantling of genre expectations. So why does it fail where other Jarmusch films have succeeded?

There are several related answers to that question, the first being the existence of Jarmusch’s brilliant Dead Man, a conceptually similar film that revises the Western instead of deconstructing crime fiction. In both cases, Jarmusch’s denial of two-fisted storytelling makes an outlaw’s journey turn relentlessly inward, and the film evolves into a philosophical reverie across an unfamiliar and often wondrous place. The crucial difference between the two is that Depp’s character is immediately engaging and accessible, one in a long tradition of Jarmuschian fish-out-of-water heroes dating back to John Lurie in Stranger Than Paradise. De Bankolé plays it much too close to the vest.

...The film manages a handful of transcendent moments, like a startlingly dramatic flamenco dance and a vibrant scan of the countryside through a train window, courtesy of the great cinematographer Christopher Doyle. But too much of The Limits Of Control feels canned and airless, so stifled by Jarmusch’s obsessions that it loses all sense of surprise.

Metacritic combines reviews with the ranges being:
Los Angeles Times (Betsy Sharkey): A little like guided meditation with suggestions floated, waiting, left untethered. It's up to you to distill meaning -- which will leave some convinced the director is merely self-indulgent, and others deeply satisfied.

Philadelphia Inquirer (Steven Rea): Almost absurdly quiet and observant, The Limits of Control is about the space between the action, the steps along the way.

Rolling Stone (Peter Travers): Even the great ones hit snags. With The Limits of Control, Jim Jarmsuch gets tangled up in his own deadpan.

Portland Oregonian (Shawn Levy): It's exactly the film Jarmusch wanted to make, but it's also smug, excruciating, borderline pointless. You could call it a deliberate effort to invert the conventions of the thriller; you could also call it, more rightly, a self-deluded disaster.

USA Today (Claudia Puig): It might be that Jarmusch (Broken Flowers) is experimenting with creating a pastiche of dreamlike sequences that audiences can interpret as they wish. Or it may be merely pretension and hubris that fuels such a stylized and insubstantial story.

New York Post (Lou Lumenick): This is one of those movies that's too cool to have a plot.

Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern): Jim Jarmusch's Dada meander, shot by Christopher Doyle, is empty and excruciating -- that's really all you need to know.

I loved it, others hated it, make up your own mind!
The Limits of Control [ imdb ] [ wiki ]
Starring: Isaach De Bankole, Alex Descas, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Bill Murray
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

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