"The Limits of Control"; a film review by Gary Chew
In "The Limits of Control," Isaach De Bankolé plays an enigmatic Lone Man. Focused and intense, he goes about a surreptitious task in the urban and rural landscapes of Spain. The series of characters he encounters are nameless, as well. There's little dialogue, most of it coming from the person Lone Man is meeting.
There's Tilda Swinton, Blonde; John Hurt, Guitar; Paz de la Huerta, Nude; Gale García Bernal, Mexican; as well as a few other unnamed women and men, including one who is simply listed in the cast as, American. More about him later.
There are repetitious bits of conversation in each meeting, one being, "You don't speak Spanish, do you?"Always, the Lone Man either shakes his head or says, "No." Another line repeatedly delivered to the Lone Man (almost as a warning) is, "The universe has no center or edges." (Kick that around a bit.) Then, there's the aphorism painted on the tailgate of the Mexican's pickup, "La Vida No Vale Nada." If my high school Spanish still translates correctly, that means, "Life is nothing." I expected Jean Paul Sartre to be the next guy Lone Man would be sipping another expresso with, while music composed by John Adams or Steve Reich darkly loops by under the one-sided dialogue.
Well, you know soon enough you're not going to be seeing anything like Ben Stiller or "Night in the Museum," even though Lone Man frequently visits local museums to view paintings while attending to what it is he's attending to.
And so it is with "Control," that Jarmusch steps back from his last and most accessible film, "Broken Flowers," returning to, let's say, more metaphorical material like "Ghost Dog," "Down By Law," "Dead Man" and (my favorite movie title for all time), "Stranger Than Paradise," which I viewed at Tulsa's legendary and glacial Williams Center Cinema. To take you back---one more time---to just how "metaphorical" "Paradise" was: it's about these two guys in New York City who take a winter vacation to Cleveland. You know, right on Lake Erie?
A series of random occurrences with repetitions that appear meaningfully connected and understood by the characters---with little or no explanation for the advancing narrative---is what one must wade through seeing "The Limits of Control." There also appear to be a couple of quick visuals that might be defined as hallucinations. But Jarmusch does them with taste and subtlety.
As the old radio commercial for the movie, "Strait Jacket," admonished, "Keep telling yourself, it's only a movie, it's only a movie," you may wish to silently chant, "It's only a dream, it's only a dream." But, you'd need to do that only during the stretches of "Control" that seem slow.
I kid Mr. Jarmusch, of course, because, if you'll just suck up the right amount of patience, there's an opaque pay off near the end of the movie that could put a slender grin on your face, followed by a more clearly defined grimace. Some of it with the help of this American I spoke of earlier and played by an actor who's got deadpan down to a fine art. That would be Bill Murray, Jarmusch's leading man in "Broken Flowers."
Here in "Control," we just get a dollop of Bill, but his appearance puts a smidgen of clarity to all that's gone before, starting nearly two hours earlier. And to give you an inkling of that scene would negate a reason to see the film which is mostly in English with a few, short Spanish subtitles for the monolingual.
At base, "The Limits of Control' is quite a political film and argues on the side of the Artist Everyman. It's a movie to be talked about and thought about even though it will put many to sleep or cause them to walk out.
I didn't walk out---or take a nap. That allowed me, after the end credits, to notice a second "title" that, lastly, Mr. Jarmusch pops on the big screen: "No Limits, No Control."
Así es la vida.
Opens Friday, June 19 at the Circle Cinema.
Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.
Gary Chew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.