Limits of Control offers unlimited boredom

5.11.2009

By Noah Michelson

It all begins with a sharp-suited agent named “Lone Man,” played by a striking Isaach De Bankolé. He is assigned an ambiguous mission that will take him to Spain. He will wander aimlessly through the streets of Madrid, often into an art museum. He will stare pensively at famous abstractions. He will soundlessly practice yoga. He will visit a café everyday, and will drink two espressos at a time, always. An assortment of cryptic characters will approach him and ask him if he speaks Spanish. (They will be played by famous, somewhat edgier actors like Tilda Swinton and John Hurt that will have falsely enticed you to see this film.) They will trade with him matchbooks containing indistinguishable notes that you will never read. Someone will dance the flamenco. Someone will drink Lone Man’s espresso.  Someone will die. Some audience members will have fallen asleep by the end. Others will have walked. The next morning, when asked by your coworker what the film was about, you will say, “I don’t know—nothing?” Or you will tell them something along the lines of what I’ve just written.

To give Jarmusch credit, he does know how to make his films look enticing. There’s an imposed aura of coolness that goes with the setting, imagery, and composition of his shots. Everything, from the sparse dialogue to the brooding, ambient soundtrack, is made to feel very deliberate. (I even had a hard time distinguishing the rumble of the Subway line beneath the theater from the actual music in the film.) But there’s a difference between deliberateness and significance. The film’s only real attempts at intellectual stimulation are empty musings on existentialism -- like my particular favorite: “Among us, there are those who are not among us.” This message alone embodies the bland and meaningless fortune-cookie mystique that The Limits of Control shrouds itself in.

-- MIKE BERLIN

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