The Limits of Control
dir-scr Jim Jarmusch
prd Gretchen McGowan, Stacey E Smith
with Isaach De Bankolé, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Gael García Bernal, John Hurt, Paz de la Huerta, Hiam Abbass, Luis Tosar, Alex Descas, Jean-François Stévenin, Youki Kudoh, Oscar Jaenada
release 1.May.09, UK 11.Dec.09
09/Spain 1h56
The Limits of Control
Usted no habla español, verdad? Swinton and De Bankole

murray garcia hurt
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Limits of Control While it's probably too meandering and vague for mainstream cinemagoers, this offbeat thriller is a terrific example of Jarmusch's subtly cheeky tone, plus gorgeous Christopher Doyle cinematography and a terrific cast.

A lone man (De Bankole) is on a mysterious mission, flying into Madrid then travelling to Seville and Alicante. Along the way, he has a series of clandestine meetings with a nervous violinist (Tosar), an enigmatic blonde (Swinton), a naked seductress (de la Huerta), a British guitarist (Hurt), an edgy Mexican (Garcia Bernal), a silent driver (Abbas) and an arrogant American (Murray). But he's all business, never distracted from his assignment and quietly hearing the philosophy that seems to swirl around his every move.

The film feels like a purring blend of Hitchcock and Lynch, with constant touches of black humour, dark tension and bizarre surrealism. Everyone greets the unnamed man with "Usted no habla español, verdad?" ("You don't speak Spanish, right?"), which could be either a legitimate question or a spy password. And everything others say echoes as well--mainly existential comments about the endlessness of the universe and the fact that, for all our plans, life is just a handful of dust in a cemetery. Or as some note in untranslated Spanish, "La vida no vale nada" ("Life isn't worth anything").

Whether our protagonist is absorbing any of this is irrelevant; he's getting the point. And De Bankole is one of those beautifully understated actors who can say everything without moving a muscle. He probably has less dialog than anyone in the film, and yet he's in virtually every frame. And we can't take our eyes off him. So all of the colourful people he encounters, brilliantly played with mercurial energy and twitchy personality, come across as twists on movie caricatures compared to him.

As usual, writer-director Jarmusch is having fun with his audience, respecting our intelligence while provoking thought in unusual, circuitous ways. This is definitely not a film for viewers who like lots to happen in a movie, or who want firm answers to the mysteries of the plot (or life). But for those who savour vivid filmmaking that takes us somewhere new and makes us laugh and think, this is gorgeous filmmaking.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 6.Oct.09 lff

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall