The Limits of Control

The Limits of Control

Jim Jarmusch has been the cinema’s deadpan poet of lives in transit, from his breakthrough feature Stranger Than Paradise (1984) to Broken Flowers (2005). Limits of Control pretty much consists of deadpan and transit as it follows–make that contemplates–the mission of an enigmatic hitman through some picturesque but sparsely populated corners of Spain. Whom this “Lone Man” (Isaach De BankolĂ©) is supposed to kill and why are matters not shared with the viewer. Neither is the c
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3 thoughts on “The Limits of Control”

  1. The Limits of Control
    dir Jim Jarmusch 2009

    5* Haunting neo-noir

    I just saw a preview of this film last night, and … wow. Very Jarmuschian, very Doyle’ish. Yes, legendary Wong Kar-Wai cinematographer Chris Doyle shot this, and it was an inspired fit. Visually, the film is beautiful as we tour Spain from the cities to the remote country, yet at the same time brooding and ominous.

    Which was suitable, since the overall effect of this film is definitely noir. Mysterious goings on, presumably unlawful; suspenseful music; a morally ambiguous central character; the aforementioned brooding and ominous landscape; even a flamenco rehearsal reminiscent of the almost obligatory nightclub scenes in classic noir.

    Structurally, the film is simple. A Lone Man (played with impeccable detachment by Isaach De Bankole’) arrives in Madrid. He is contacted, given brief and cryptic instructions, and goes on to make the next contact. At each stage, he orders two espressos, “in separate cups”, opens a matchbox to find a folded square of paper with a few numbers and letters on it (coordinates?), which he memorizes and destroys; he has some task such as “find the violin”; he hangs out for a while, always ordering two separate espressos, until he is contacted, given a pass phrase; has a few cryptic words and exchanges his matchbox for a new one, and sets off on the next phase. At each stage there is a small cast of sharply drawn characters, cameos really … the flamenco performers; or a cafe waiter impatient with his habits; or the beautiful, naked, and seemingly very willing (though we’re never sure just what game she’s playing), young woman (Paz de la Huerta) who shows up in his hotel room. Few, if any, characters other than the Lone Man are here for more than a few minutes.

    This structure seems like it should quickly get tedious, but instead the tension builds palpably. What, we wonder, is really going on, even as we are presented with a few clues. Why all the complex charades? Is this criminal, political, or…? Fortunately, we eventually do get to resolution of sorts, although a suitably ambiguous and head scratching one. I know I’m definitely looking forward to a chance to view this one again.

  2. “The Limits of Control” is another not-so-wholesome creation of Indie-film master Jim Jarmusch, a filmmaker well known for his boring films. A good kind of boring, mind you. I’m referring to the stillness of life, the observation of insignificant details and idiosyncrasies of individual lives, ideally displayed in appreciating the things around us that are inattentive. Ingenious, and a whole lot of “I” words. Watching his earlier films was a challenge at first, but once I got into the curve, I appreciated the whole “little things” aspect he slowly crafts.

    What kind of story he slowly crafted in “Limits”? It’s about a man in a suit named, since no character in this movie has a name so I made ’em up, “Suit Man.” Issach de Bankole plays in his first Jarmusch-English-speaking role as Suit Man, an otherwise silent character on a mission. He receives a matchbook, he waits….Then he meets a character, receives another matchbook, he waits…. Later, he meets another character, receives yet another matchbook, he waits…. Goes on a countryside, meets yet another character and receives another matchbook once again, he waits…. “Limits” can be essentially called “Ticket Booths: The Movie”, getting a ticket from a ticket booth to stand in line to another ticket booth. There is a point to this film, but it didn’t have to elaborate for something obvious.

    To me, this is Jim’s most inaccessible film to date. It’s very arduous, which is not a problem in itself since that’s a common pacing in his own films, but it is when the film’s so desolate. There are many sequences with no dialogue, almost none of which are fresh and gazing to make these scenes interesting. “Limits” certainly test my patience on how uneventful and redundant certain scenes are.

    His last film, “Broken Flowers”, developed a bit of mystery in itself for anyone who saw the movie and know the ending (or lack therefore), but in this film, it’s downright enigmatic. What are those pieces of paper mean before Suit Man ate them? Who are the syndicate that captured a certain character? What does he see in the art portraits, premonitions or a part of himself? Stuff happens that I don’t understand and yet the main character does, and this movie wants me to go along with the journey; it simply did not let me in on the experience.

    What I like about Jar Moosh’s best films is how the characters interact with the banality of the scenery, quirks and all. Here, all the side characters just speak in proverbs. Redundancy is also an issue with the cast, very few of them have a distinct personality. Only in what they wear (like Tilda Swinton’s blonde attire) make them stand apart, but looks don’t mean much in this film.

    I admit, though, the “Barton Fink”-esque enigma did work in the movie’s favor at times. In the beginning, there was a scene between Suit Man, Spanish Messenger and his translator in which the subtitles display what the Spanish Messenger said and the translator saying exactly what the subtitles read. Was it amusing or unnecessary? I think it’s both just for absurdity’s sake, plus the end of the conversation was funny. I did understand the “two coffee in separate cups” motif, I thought it was a nice touch. I laughed at how Suit Man got inside a secured building; it’s never the “how”, it’s the spontaneity of the result which was funny. The moment between him and Bill Murray’s character was a pleasant payoff. Also, there’s nothing wrong with having a character always in full-body nudity, even if there’s no reason other than the director needed to include one, like in every other film of his.

    I did like “The Limits of Control” to some degree. The music was rightfully transcendental, and the Jarmusch touch of stillness and oddities are there, and it has to be to prevent it from being boring, the bad kind. His films are niche for sure, but this film is so artsy that it limits its appeal from enthusiastic viewers. This is not the film to start appreciating the filmmaker.

  3. What begins as an exercise in existentialism and surrealism never graduates from that experiment and instead evolves into a two hour waiting game for a profound explanation of the events we’ve just witnessed. Sadly, it never comes. Reality may be arbitrary according to director Jim Jarmusch, but cohesive storytelling and a reason for observing his art is not. Like a jigsaw puzzle without a border, too many pieces of the mystery are missing to affect its audience with intrigue over confusion and this already painfully slow Lynchian drama becomes an excruciating slideshow of self-reflective nonsense. If the best films are like dreams you’re not really sure you’ve had, then The Limits of Control is like a nightmare that you remember all too clearly.

    A Man (Isaach De Bankole) is hired for a job that requires both creativity and a keen perception of realities. Trading matchboxes, cryptic messages, and existential perspectives with strangers assigned to find him, including a platinum blonde film enthusiast (Tilda Swinton), a Japanese science muse (Youki Kudoh) and a music-loving girl who parades around in the buff (Paz de la Huerta), the Man works his way to the ultimate goal – one whose outcome he has always known, though its journey is one of constant perplexity.

    Since there’s no story to speak of (or at least not one based in a non-paradoxical half-dream, half-subconscious world), the easiest thing to admire is the style – sharp suits, variegated costumes and complimentary nakedness by a character credited only as “Nude.” Tilda Swinton’s briefly seen character practically spells it out when pondering movies: “Sometimes I like it in films when people just sit there not saying anything.” She also mentions her love of pictures that focus on “the little details of life.” While giving the audience insight into some of the ideas unfolding onscreen, the general, gross lack of defining every other moment of significance drowns out whatever brief strands of understanding viewers might have temporarily grasped.

    It’s brooding and as slowly paced as the calming techniques practiced by the nameless main character, taking time to focus on scenery, food, traffic and architecture. All of the details are an elaborate setup for the multitude of questions being stockpiled, except that no answers ever arrive. With so many minutes spent studying various elements continually referenced amongst the colorful array of supporting characters, certainly some sort of meaning exists. If Jarmusch’s intent was to demonstrate the very limited control the audience has over unfolding events and the reasoning that surrounds them, he succeeded. But that accomplishment also marks an utter failure in regards to producing a movie that can entertain someone outside of the director’s mindset and appreciation for his own cinematic witchcraft.

    – The Massie Twins

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