Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Limits of Control (or, Two Espressos in Separate Cups)

Having seen a number of Jim Jarmusch’s films before, I thought I knew what I was letting myself into with The Limits of Control. I was wrong.

Previous Jarmusch films have always used a slow build-up of around 30 minutes or so, and then segue into (and I realise this isn’t the right phrase, but you’ll understand what I mean) non-stop action for the remainder of the film. Limits isn’t like that. Here, around 99% of the film’s running time is devoted to the build-up, resulting in a short climax that has a requirement to be entertaining, or shocking enough to compensate for the constant calm of the previous hour and a half. And it doesn’t quite manage that.

Let me clarify. The Limits of Control is an art film. It sacrifices plot for cinematography, dialogue for imagery, and substance for style. And that’s absolutely fine, if that’s what you are expecting. I wasn’t, and judging by the reactions of the audience around me, neither were they. Perhaps they were hoping for a more colourful, modern-day version of Dead Man, a film about an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary, psychedelic scenarios in the Wild West. Or, like me, they were expecting a European-flavoured companion piece to Ghost Dog, Jarmusch’s other film concerning a hired killer.

Limits will test the patience of the average cinema-goer, there’s no doubt about it. The audience is required to think, to analyse the images on-screen and consider their meaning. Like David Lynch’s recent Inland Empire, it is a film that will stay with you and a film you will feel stronger for having finished watching it. You may even sigh in relief. I did.

The lead character in Limits of Control explains that he achieves certain feats by “using my imagination”. The film asks that you do the same. The question is: Is that what you want from a cinematic experience? I’m perfectly happy to do that. I just appreciate a warning before I have to.

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