The Limits of Control

The one aspect of the lone killer’s life that we can envy is the lack of physical and mental clutter. A single bag holds the killer’s belongings. He doesn’t think, he doesn’t read, he doesn’t watch TV.

Beside killing, his only exertion consists of a few tai chi moves and occasionally listening to Schubert. Ordinary humans, with their encumbered lives and frazzled nerves, are light-years away from this perfect state of permanent suspension or meditation, communication restricted to yes or no, ordering coffee, (two separate cups of espresso,) and waiting without angst or trepidation for the next step of the assignment.

The problem is, when this turns into film and occurs over an hour and a half of repetition of what I’ve just enumerated, even the biggest Jarmusch fan will find his or her attention wander. Or, alternatively, live for the next cameo by someone famous—Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Bill Murray et al.

Isaach De Bankolé plays the killer. He has no expression, no vocabulary, no desire and for sex or for food. As already mentioned, he only drinks coffee. Even the great camera work in a Madrid or Seville with a focus on red and white and on every object—matchbox, coffee cup, scrap of paper, a close-up of every street corner—doesn’t prevent the exercise from becoming monotonous.

Distilling the essential is one thing, distilling the trivial another. “The Limits of Control” reminded me of other limits, those of Antonioni’s work in the sixties, those long, long, long movies with people walking, walking, walking, by themselves most of the time.

Even couples tended to walk a few steps apart in deserted streets such as the ones in the present film. “La notte,” “L’avventura,” “Profession: Reporter,” (this last also set in Spain, with a young Jack Nicholson,) hit the same dreary and, we can admit it now, boring note over and over.

In “Limits of Control,” the half-digested pedantic discourse about string instruments, the memory of molecules repositioning themselves, the importance of art, the origin of the word “bohemian” sounds much like the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, “Yes we talk of things that matter/in words that must be said/can analysis be worthwhile/is the theater really dead?” And the point of this exercise?