The Limits of Control Review

Release Date (UK) – 11 December 2009
Certificate (UK) – 15
Country – USA
Director – Jim Jarmusch
Runtime – 116 mins
Starring – Isaach De Bankole, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Bill Murray

This is a very odd, and often excruciatingly slow film. Its bare script can’t have run to more than a couple of pages, especially as most of the lines are repeated over by different characters. Isaach De Bankole stars as the unnamed protagonist, travelling through Spain to meet a various string of characters and exchange coded messages with them via matchboxes, as well as receiving instructions from them about where to go next. We don’t know what he’s doing or where he’s going as the film keeps us guessing, and even when the film does finally climax his motivations are frustratingly still not revealed.

The string of message exchanges become running jokes. De Bankoles character always orders two espressos in separate cups rather than a double espresso while waiting, and the message bearers all wear sunglasses and greet him with the code message ‘You don’t speak Spanish, do you?’. Before exchanging matchboxes they often try to engage him in some sort of discussion on a philosophical point of art or science which he usually ignores or replies with a few monotone syllables. A lot of these people are star cameos, but are only on screen for moments so you may feel cheated if you’ve gone to see a film starring Tilda Swinton or John Hurt.

I’m a big fan of the films cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who has worked on may of Wong Kar Wai’s beautifully shot films like In the Mood for Love. Here his camera is as always graceful and there are some really interesting and reflective shots. Gael Garcia Bernals character philosophises about how it’s what reflected in a mirror that is more interesting than the actual thing being reflected: later on we see a shot of the lone man where we only see his reflection in a window, recalling this phrase.

The narrative is very bare and there’s no character development which makes for a very abstract film that people aren’t used to Jarmuschs films will just find boring and slow. The films most redeeming point is the number of jokes, usually stemming from repeated lines. Although beautifully shot, and with a recognisable Jarmusch score of haunting melancholy music this philosophical film would have made a much easier watch if it simply cut down its 2 hour runtime. Needless to say my cinema companion fell asleep and this is only really recommended to die-hard Jarmusch aficionados.

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