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Movie review: The Limits of Control -- 2 out of 5 stars
Jim Jarmusch has never been a filmmaker in a hurry. His films that work -- from Night on Earth to Broken Flowers -- have a droll, meditative vibe and pace. He often pieces together an episodic story that allows movie stars to show up in tiny, single-scene roles -- star power for his quirky, self-conscious riffs.
But the shortcomings of his style work against his sleep-inducing riddle, The Limits of Control. A repetitive koan about "He who thinks he's bigger than the rest must go to the cemetery," this is indulgent filmmaking at its most pretentious.
A mysterious man (Isaach De Bankole) in a shark-skin suit is given a mission. Go to Spain. Meet a succession of people, exchange code-words and coded messages left inside matchboxes, all leading to, well, what?
"Reality is arbitrary," he is told. Boredom, we see, isn't.
Our mysterious stranger silently walks the streets of Madrid, Seville and Almeria. He meets with assorted oddballs -- the white-haired actress ( Tilda Swinton), the aged art lover (John Hurt), "the Mexican ( Gael Garcia Bernal)."
They all ask, "You don't speak Spanish, do you?" They all say "You wouldn't by any chance be interested in" music-art-film-science-hallucinations. He doesn't answer. He has two espressos, one of which he sips as he swallows coded messages.
No performer makes more than a momentary impression; no interminable scene lingers on the memory as long as it lasts on the screen.
"The best films are the dreams you're not sure you've really had," the actress says, suggesting that maybe we aren't sitting through this -- we're dreaming it all. "Sometimes, I like to see films where people just sit there not saying anything."
You go right ahead and watch those films. But make them at your own peril. Demanding patience from your viewers is one thing. Not giving us a payoff for an exasperating two hours of walking down scenic sidestreets and viewing paintings at the Reina Sofia that seem to have inspired this "script," is infuriating. Testing the limits of fans' patience with Limits of Control is no reward at all.