The Limits of Control
It seems I constantly regret not being more familiar with Jim Jarmusch’s work. Since the last time I wrote about him, despite being offered several good selections, I still haven’t seen much of his. However, now I can add The Limits of Control to this short list, and despite being an exercise in patience, it leaves me wanting more.
Jarmusch wrote the script for this film, and its minimalism is intriguing in the same way I very much enjoyed Gus Van Sant’s Gerry; not so much a straight forward narrative, but fun, and intriguing nonetheless. The story follows a character only credited as ‘Lone Man’ (Isaach De Bankolé). His story begins at an airport where he meets with two men Creole, and French. Creole speaks in Creole, giving Lone Man densely ambiguous and philosophical advice as to how to be successful in what seems to be a contract job the three have entered in to.
At this point, armed with strange instructions, Lone Man travels throughout Spain (starting in Madrid), meeting with variously interesting characters with whom he trades matchboxes hiding secret messages. Or diamonds. The characters he meets have similarly enigmatic names: Blonde (Tilda Swinton), Mexican (Gael García Bernal), American (Bill Murray), Molecules (Youki Kudoh), etc., etc.
The cinematography is technically brilliant. This is thanks to cinematographer Christopher Doyle (who also frequently works on Van Sant and Wong Kar Wai films). He achieved a beautiful, dream-like world, where everyone is mysterious and interesting. In a conversation Blonde has with Lone Man, she says, ‘The best films are like dreams you’re never really sure you had.’ With a steady (if slow pace) of drifting characters, smooth dialogue, repetition of themes and ideas, and a bitchin’ soundscape, you’ll feel like you’re watching someone else’s dream. The film is absolutely self-indulgent and pretentious. But if you can get past all that, you’ll find it extremely thought-provoking.