Circles and Squares

04/29/2009 4:00 AM |

The Limits of Control, directed by Jim Jarmusch

A miracle of texture, Jim Jarmusch’s new movie about a mystery man
with a mission exists beyond cool, which is something of a relief.
Beautifully crafted and serenely edited, The Limits of Control
can be experienced as pure trance, without having to buy into shopworn
attitudes of deadpan, or hip, or recycled zen. Gliding through Madrid,
Seville, Almería, the lone man (Isaach De Bankolé) is
indeed at one with himself, and practices tai chi in his hotel suites,
but the force of his code comes from the film’s own code of
experiential patterns. Aided by his DP Christopher Doyle and a
noise-rock soundtrack, Jarmusch sends us cruising on a Mobius strip of
the mind — visual motifs like the curves and whorls of stairs and
balconies, the spiraling guitar chords and ambient hums of Boris and
Sun O))), the iterative enigmas of the man’s journey (boxes of matches
are exchanged at each rendezvous), and the mise en abyme of his museum
visits, spent in contemplation of exactly one artwork each time.

What the hell happens? Isaach De Bankolé meets with Tilda
Swinton (in fright wig and raincoat-cowgirl ensemble), Youki Kudoh,
John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, and (under different circumstances) Bill
Murray, mostly in cafes. Jarmusch’s predilection for a cast of all
nations fits the global-traveler musings in the one-sided dialogue at
these meetings (since Bankolé’s character says little or
nothing, nor do we mind). None of it would be bearable without
Bankolé’s tense-serene presence, his cheekbones practically
carved into a studiously expressionless face, his stillness and utterly
contained authority arresting but not threatening or “tough” (quite
unlike his last Jarmusch role as the ice cream man in Ghost
). Across from these equally mysterious agents delivering their
lines and matchboxes, Bankolé has such immovable weight that
it’s possible to view these meetings as imagined obstacles, along with
the bespectacled nude (Paz De La Huerta) who materializes in his hotel
bed and says the darndest things.

Jarmusch has compared the movie to “Marguerite Duras remaking Le
” (thereby one-upping Soderbergh’s tagging lone-gunman
The Limey as Resnais making Get Carter). But for most of
the film what obtains is Bankolé and company’s bohemian
prerogative to contemplate, rather than any reworking of past films.
While one profile shot of a hotel room seems to mimic the opening shot
of Le Samourai, the cultural references and notebook quotations
don’t feel like telegraphed pastiches as they sometimes do in other
Jarmusch movies, even though a few lines are ridiculous. And Jarmusch
seems enlivened and grounded by the summer-bright Spain locations, from
dreamy urban architecture to lunar outlands.

A couple of the movie’s most striking encounters are best left
unpreviewed, but suffice to say the journey gets somewhat crystallized
by its destination (and climaxes in the best final shot this year). Not
that the endpoint is necessary, or that there must be something to
figure out and “get,” pace the obnoxious review in
Variety that suggests Jarmusch’s true aim is getting one by all
us rubes. The film’s formal control and Bankolé’s unnerving
focus, both in the interest of liberated perception, are potent and
mesmerizing, and the result is something you haven’t seen before from
this filmmaker.

Opens May 1

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