The limits of patience
THE LIMITS OF CONTROL Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Starring Isaach De Bankolé, Gael García Bernal, Paz de la Huerta, Alex Descas, John Hurt, Youki Kudoh, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Hiam Abbass Club, Queen’s, Belfast; IFI, Dublin, 115 min
NOT FOR the first time, the great Jim Jarmusch has delivered a film that has a lot to do with ritual. Everywhere Isaach De Bankolé’s silk-suited villain treads – and he gets around a bit – he goes through the same series of intimate gestures and social rites.
Most everybody De Bankolé encounters, responding to his calls as a congregation responds to a priest, appears to be part of the same obscure cult. He practices tai chi. He orders two espressos in separate cups. Then some queerly familiar figure – it might by John Hurt in a raincoat or Tilda Swinton in a cowboy hat – wanders up to the protagonist and confirms that he doesn’t speak Spanish. They then talk about art, movies or death and, after exchanging matchboxes, go their separate ways.
One suspects that screenings of the film will be accompanied by further rigidly iterated actions from audiences. At the 20-minute mark a sighing will rise up. After 40 minutes, the congregation will emit guttural groaning. Then, some way into the second hour, the cinema will echo to the sound of seats springing back to the upright position. This is not to say that The Limits
of Control is devoid of beautiful, seductive stretches. Shot by the perennially imaginative Christopher Doyle, the picture draws flaking golds and dusty tans from the baking Spanish locations. Certain scenes appear to be funny on purpose and the summoning up of cinematic ghosts will engage dedicated moviegoers. (Is the mysterious naked girl the reincarnation of Brigitte Bardot in Le Mépris or a killer babe from a 1960s spy spoof?)
Yet it’s hard to escape the suspicion that Jarmusch is now consciously toying with the patience of his loyal fan-base. “So, how much stupefying stasis will you allow me?” he seems to ask.
The director has, in gems such as Dead Man and Stranger Than
Paradise, long enjoyed experimenting with beautiful inactivity. But one always felt that, though they may shield themselves, his characters had complex inner lives. In this relentlessly arid exercise, the participants – hardly characters – seem like chess pieces being nudged towards an inevitable, boring stalemate. For Jarmusch completists only.
Tilda Swinton joins the Jarmusch parade of enigmatic luvvies