Sunday, February 14, 2010
Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Paz de la Huerta, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Bill Murray
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Runtime: 116 min. (really?)
Verdict: An interminable bore. A pretentious movie and a badly made one. The kind of movies that suffix artsy with fartsy.
The black assassin, his nose permanently flared, walks into a room. A petite body lay absolutely naked on the bed. Her sparkling clean posterior is facing the wall. She is even wearing those typical spectacles office women wear in porn movies to cater to our elitist cravings. She is played by Ms. Huerta and when I check her images on Google, she is a beautiful woman. He snatches the gun. No, the film is too inert too include something as kinetic an action as snatch. The black assassin just takes the gun. He puts it inside and walks out, when she says if he likes her posterior. He says yes. She wonders why he doesn’t want to have sex. He explains. The next scene cuts to him on the bed, in his dress, and her lying naked on him. He obviously is exercising control. The point is, it doesn’t feel like much of an effort because the entire sequence is absolutely un-erotic, if that is a word.
Why else, or how else is the scene intended to work? Mr. Jarmusch references, by the posturing of the woman, by the dialog, Jean Luc Godard’s Contempt. That was a film which was about the struggle of commerce and art because it was about it. And I have watched that film. I wonder though, why should you have seen the film? Why should you have watched some obscure film to enjoy and get the point of this scene here in The Limits of Control? This is the most condemnable aspect of modern art movies, where gratuitous masturbation of cinephilia is mistaken for art. Why should an audience, who has just spent his day working 8 hours, be treated with empty cinematic references? An art film is meant to spiritually awaken. Film attempts like The Limits of Control, which are the exact equivalent of the blockbuster world’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, should be criticized vociferously, and burnt so that young filmmakers do not get the wrong notion of art.
Now consider the kind of filmmaking at hand. Look at the manner in which Mr. Jarmusch tries to reference Hitchcock. One of the black assassins contact is a blonde (alert), played by Ms. Swinton, and she sits next to our guy, as all of them do. On a table in a café. Behind them is a pillar with two dragons, and behind it are two taps. Hitchcock would do that kind of silly symbolism in his films, most notably Strangers on a Train, to represent the duality of a man. I hate that. A symbol itself is a reference. A reference to a reference makes me want to rip my arm off and throw at the film in absolute disgust. And just to make sure that everybody watching gets it that the film wants to discuss art, the blonde woman explicitly mentions her views on Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai and Suspicion. That is the scene’s point. I ask again, reader, why should you even know that some guys called Welles and Hitchcock even existed to enjoy this scene? Such is the pretentiousness of The Limits of Control. I believe that is BAD filmmaking. Mr. Jarmusch doesn’t have an idea how to involve an audience. Often, when a filmmaker doesn’t have an idea, he resorts to being “cerebral” and go all referential. And then remark, Oh you didn’t get that? Well, it referenced so and so. If I was you, I would say, Sir, please watch your own films and connect your own dots. And while you’re at it, please get a life too. Cinema is about emotion, is about self. It is not about cinephilia.
What is the film about? For the most part it is about an assassin getting exposed to art. In all its forms. The setting is in Spain, and you know how it is there in these European cities. They are just classic settings for culture and art, and not the practicalities of life you feel in Mumbai or New York. Now, in one of the more interesting discussions I had over my review of The Reader, which is actually a profound movie over the affects of art over morality, and vice versa, I had incidentally used the example of a sniper/assassin. How would an assassin react to art? I am sure Vincent from Collateral was extremely spiritual. How does art affect a person? Does it make him human, does it push him further into the region where everything seems, well, a variable of an equation.
But I think I should stop asking these questions, because The Limits of Control doesn’t ask them? Not does it provide any insight on them. It just exists in a vacuum of empty style, but the problem is there is no style. It is obligatorily shot, where not a single shot evokes. I remember that great film, In the City of Sylvia, which I believe is one of the greatest ever made, and I see there a camera which becomes the male eye. Here the camera is nothing. No unique perspective, not even a cinebuff’s. Just obligatory shots. Except for of course an early sequence, where the assassin lands out of the airport and gets into a cab and rides and rides and minutes turn into hours turn into days. There is no editing but blending of images, and they are so bright you feel like you are under the afternoon sun driving a car. I think I had to close my eyes once. It is a spectacular sequence, and from thereon the filmmaking gets so monotonous it feels it is on autopilot. Look at how unimaginatively Mr. Jarmusch highlights the assassin’s various contacts. They are in slow-mo, with a hand-held camera. The shot doesn’t make you feel anything. The slow-mo isn’t even grand, it is just there. Stylistic films gain a resonance, like Sergio Leone’s films, but this one doesn’t even have a heart to beat. Forget the resonance altogether. It is all just badly made. And a horrible viewing experience. People do not like normal people. The only degree of sanity comes when Mr. Murray appears on screen. It is an unbearable movie too. You want to watch the movie as an honest man with noble intentions, but your mind starts revolting after a while. Your mind insists it has plenty of better things to do. The black assassin walking across as a train passes beneath sure is supposed to mean something or refer some obscure movie, but who cares.
I believe, for the most part, The Limits of Control exists as one of my most contemptible movie watching experiences of the past year or so. Between this, Kambakht Ishq and Transformers: ROTFL, I guess I have to hand it out to Kambakht Ishq. But Mr. Jarmusch’s film trails only by a whisker. And the Michael Bay masterpiece is lagging a distant third. For all its incomprehensibility I never did really mind it.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 7:36 PM