The Limits of Control (2009, USA/Japan, Jim Jarmusch), is a film made up of all the “non-moments” of a conventional thriller, strung together to form an anti-narrative narrative. Or, maybe it’s just easier to think of it as a “thriller” with all the “thrilling” moments stripped from it. Which pretty much describes both the film’s greatest strengths and it’s inevitable weaknesses–I personally found, for most of the film, the film’s lack-of-mystery to be an engrossing enough mystery in and off itself, as there does seem to be, for a while at least, a traditional mystery/thriller unfolding parallel to the film that is always kept just outside of camera’s carefully controlled gaze (the first scene where a suspicious-looking, sunglasses-clad group of men are glimpsed; the helicopter circling constantly overhead, etc).
And while I went with this willingly for the duration of the film, it also means I was ultimately left a bit disappointed, as it caused me to anticipate something along the lines of what Robbe-Grillet accomplishes in his novel La Jalousie, when all of the rigorous “external” observation finally reveals, or at least begins to hint at, some kind of explanation or rationalization of the non-mystery. And that just doesn’t happen here… Jarmusch (admirably in a sense, I admit), sticks to his guns, and follows his conceit through to the very end, giving no answers when the camera tilts slightly and Isaach De Bankolé’s enigma steps around the corner and out of sight.
The narrative opacity is in turn counterbalanced by Jarmusch’s images–and what images they are! Each frame is immaculately composed, displaying an almost Antonioni-esque obsession for the architectural and in tracking objects–be they human figures or cups of coffee–as they move through physical spaces. But the question must ultimately be posed, as to whether or not the endless visual pleasure provided by the film is enough to justify such a rigorous viewing experience. And I have to admit I’m leaning towards yes, if not necessarily for the reasons I initially thought. For there was something that kept piquing at me, a barely-perceptible dissonance that took most of the film’s running time to pinpoint, that kept the film from ever becoming too rigidly controlled, air-tight, dead. And I have to admit I was surprised when I finally did identify the source of subtle agitation–it was, oddly enough, De Bankolé’s manner of walking. One would imagine that it would be smooth, effortless, a poetic glide straight out of a Wong Kar-Wai film, but instead it’s rather awkward, as if his four appendages are just a split-second out of sync with each other. I have no idea if this was an intentional effect or not, but it was the antithesis of what I thought I “knew” of this collected, perpetually self-possessed character, and this unconsciously-sensed element that humanized the human enigma for me. And in a weird way, it kind of made the entire film for me.
Memories of a Movie: