Jim Jarmusch is not a prolific filmmaker by any means, but when he does make a film it makes noise – divisive noise – thanks to his oddball-arthouse style and the challenging questions he poses to the audience. His fans are used to his style by now, over 20 years into his career, but it’s a harder one to grasp for the influx of new fans Broken Flowers, his last film, and its star, Bill Murray, might have brought in.
For the uninitiated, Jarmusch films unspool in languid labyrinths of subtleties and reversals, where what you are being presented is only a piece of the puzzle, and the puzzle you see may not even be the real picture. His plots are an existential cryptex.
In The Limits of Control, however, Jarmusch has forgotten to give us the codeword. African actor and Jarmusch regular Isaach De Bankolé plays a nameless man on an unknown mission. He has arrived in Spain, where has a clandestine meeting in the airport via translator. The two seedy, Bond-villain-by-way-of-Abbott-&-Costello types he meets pass him a matchbox with a code inside and send him on his way to the next in a long line of such meetings.
The incongruity of “art film” and “big budget” (judging by the rich luxury on the screen) doesn’t gel together. Jarmusch stocks his film with lavish sets, beautiful old apartments, ritzy locations (and even a helicopter) following the nameless man all over Spain, but there is very little substance to back it up.
Instead, we are treated to vignettes of movie stars – Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael García Bernal, Bill Murray – musing about the mysteries of life, while Paz de la Huerta roams through the film in the nude. It’s a pretty film, and for more reasons than de la Huerta. Shot by the ultra-talented Christopher Doyle, the varied old-world and modern beauty of Spain is taken advantage of, from the cosmopolitan Madrid to the breathtaking seaside villages.
There are jokes within the awkwardness of the exchanges, but they are too few and far between, if you are even awake to hear them. Every time something seems to be happening, Jarmusch tips us gently back into sleep mode. It’s enough to make you long for a sip of one of the countless espressos the nameless man enjoys.