The Limits of Control

un film de Jim Jarmusch

Ed Gonzalez, perspicacious top dog critic (and co-creator / film editor) at Slant Magazine, and fellow traveler I am more oft than not in critical sync with, describes Jim Jarmusch's latest cinematic offering, The Limits of Control as "what a David Lynch film no doubt looks like to people who don't actually like David Lynch films".

I suppose on one level that is an accurate and rather astute statement, considering it does trod rather heavily, albeit snarkily so, on the soggy-minded grounds of Lynchian soil, with its cryptic messages and mysterious strange-talking interlopers and omnipresent awareness of sinister guiding forces controlling everything that happens. Now I do not mean to disparage Mr. Gonzalez in any way as I have great respect for him as a critic and concede many of the points laid out in his review, but I must take certain umbrage toward this particular statement, for I happen to love David Lynch films, and consider him one of, if not the greatest American filmmaker working today, and I am still quite able to enjoy Jarmusch's latest as well. Perhaps I am the proverbial exception that proves the rule. Perhaps I just got way-laid by the coolly nuanced mise en scene of Jarmusch's quippy style of cinema. Perhaps I have no idea what I am saying. Who knows and more to the point, c'est la vie whatever the answer.

Evoking a winking cinephilia that can easily be mistaken for a snarky contempt for his audience and/or pretentious self-indulgence, Jarmusch, even more so here than in any of his previous cinephilia-biased works (which is basically his entire oeuvre - good and bad), creates a cinema that is above all else - and below all else as well - about cinema itself. With allusions to everything from Hitchcock to Antonioni to Aki Kaurismaki to Jean-Luc Godard to a self-referential thesis on Jarmusch himself to the aforementioned David Lynch, this is cinema looking at cinema talking about cinema. A roundtable of sorts on the very idea of cinephilia. Truffaut once said that "film lovers are sick people" and he was probably right about that.

Sick or not (professionally and obsessionally speaking, I think we all are to some extent) Jarmusch is the ultimate cinephile, right up there with other cinephiliac filmmakers such as Godard, Scorsese, Tarantino, Bogdanovich, De Palma and the sui generis quoter himself, M. Truffaut. He proves it in scene after scene after scene after scene. Tilda Swinton carrying on about The Lady From Shanghai while looking every bit the escapee from the ultra cool universe of early Wong Kar-wai, complete with trenchcoat and coiffed in a platinum wig. His recreation of JLG's genuflectory, and rightly so, shot of Bardot's brazen bare ass in Les Mepris. Bill Murray's fateful finale cameo deep in a concrete bunker, channeling something straight out of Dr. Strangelove via Dick Cheney. Even Jarmusch's use of uber-cinematographer Christopher Doyle and Mexican new wave poster child Gael Garcia Bernal (Brando from South of the Border) is in many ways a bow to the art cinema of the more recent past.

Perhaps all this can get quite tiresome to the novice viewer - the film is purposefully repetitive after all - and too perhaps, does the story get rather convoluted and seemingly unnecessary at times, but pretension be damned, the film is pure eye and ear candy for the rather indulgent and somewhat gluttonous cinephile in us all - even with its few flaws, not least of which its blatant ignorance of necessity. But these are only flaws to the non-initiated amongst us. I not being one of them. Perhaps, like many fellow critics have already announced, the film is full of hooey after all. Perhaps it does indeed have a snarky contempt for its audience and/or a pretentious self-indulgence. Perhaps it is merely Jarmusch making the movie he has always needed to make in order to feed his ravenous cinephilia before it completely devours him. Perhaps I am just awed-for-awe's-sake. Perhaps this is nothing more than future fodder to dissect and disseminate in film schools someday and can only be truly appreciated in that long-off aspect. Perhaps Mr. Gonzalez does know of what he speaks. Perhaps I have no idea what I am talking about still. Perhaps this is a great film nonetheless - or at least an interesting cinematic art project. Whatever the answer, c'est la vie. I liked it. [05/29/09]