The Limits of Control (15)
Friday 11 December 2009
Jim Jarmusch comes from an earlier generation of American hipsters, and his Bill Murray-starring film Broken Flowers (2005) may have offered encouragement to those (like me) who were previously agnostic about his affectless cool (Dead Man, Night on Earth, et al).
His latest, The Limits of Control, is another picaresque, and features a cameo by Murray, but Jarmusch's characteristic indifference to narrative excitement makes it hard to love – and may indeed return you to being agnostic.
Isaach de Bankolé plays a taciturn loner hired for an enigmatic "job" that involves travelling across Spain to make assignations, each involving the same routine: espressos at a café, an exchange of matchboxes, and cryptic messages along the lines of "Wait three days until you see the bread." Because Bankolé seldom talks, the terse, unenlightening conversation devolves on his contacts, most of them restricted to one scene a piece – the Nude (Paz de la Huerta), Guitar (John Hurt), the Mexican (Gael García Bernal), Creole (Alex Descas). Tilda Swinton, as the Blonde, uses her three minutes to muse on her favourite movies, remarking, "I like it in films when people just sit there, not doing anything." So there's at least one fan guaranteed for The Limits of Control.
Bereft of plot, the film is essentially a hymn both to Spain, lovingly shot by the director of photography Christopher Doyle, and to the magisterial calm of Isaach de Bankolé. Changing his immaculate silk suits according to location – petrol blue in Madrid, brown in Seville, steel-grey in the country – he looks great as he pads along the streets, perhaps evoking shades of Alain Delon in Le Samouraï and Lee Marvin in Point Blank. Yet those two movies look positively effusive and event-crammed next to Jarmusch's parched variations on a theme. The film's refusal to up the pace, or even to break a sweat, means there is little to occupy an audience beyond staring at the elegant contours of Bankolé's impassive face. I spotted a single change of expression, when he smiled briefly while watching a nightclub flamenco. It's not much reward for almost two hours of waiting for something to happen.
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