Set in Madrid and Seville as well as some isolated villages in the South of Spain, the cinematography by Christopher Doyle, who was worked extensively with Wong Kar-wai, is filled with elegantly-composed images of dark streets, barren landscapes, city skylines, and world class paintings. Getting his instructions at the airport before leaving for Madrid from Creole, played by the French actor Alex Descas, de Bankolé is told simply to go to a café and look for the violin. Further instructions come from various people he meets along the way in the form of a greeting “you don’t speak Spanish, right?” and the exchange of matchboxes, one of which contains a curious code which the hit man simply eats. De Bankolé hardly ever speaks other than to say “yes” or “no.”
We learn little about him other than he prefers two cups of espresso served in separate cups and that he practices Tai Chi. We also discover that he likes women because we can see that he is tempted by the naked beauty Paz de la Huerta who suddenly appears in his hotel room. Although he openly admires her backside, he tells her that he never engages in sex while he is working (though I’ve never seen anyone who is working do such little work). As de Bankolé goes from location to location, each scene becomes a variation of the one that came before. Included are some provocative sequences such as repeated visits to an art gallery in Madrid, and a scene inside a bar in which de Bankolé watches a rehearsal of an exquisite flamenco dance in which the singer delivers dialogue from the first scene of the film warning us like some spiritual guru about the limits of ego.
“Those who think they are important”, he sings, “wind up in a cemetery – a handful of dust”. Along the way, we are introduced to some of recognizable stars. Tilda Swinton in a platinum wig, white cowboy hat, and boots talks about film noir, saying how she admires characters that never speak. Luis Tosar talks about musical instruments. Youki Kudoh speaks about molecular reconfiguration and the things that are possible in science. John Hurt tells us about the origins of the word “bohemian”. Gael Garcia Bernal talks about how consciousness can be altered by psychoactive drugs like Peyote. Finally, Bill Murray as the ugly American corporatist says that our minds have become polluted by all of the subjects that have been previously discussed.
Supported by a soundtrack of electronic music by the trio Boris, The Limits of Control is a film of mystery and silence and unexpected twists that is about the power of imagination and poetry to operate without arbitrarily imposed limits. Sensing that we are in a period of change, Jarmusch says, “I almost feel like we’re really on the cusp of an apocalypse of thought because all of these old models that they tell us are reality are all crumbling.” What the “apocalypse of thought” will look like is uncertain but the film has a hypnotic, dreamlike quality that challenges the distinction between what is real and what is a product of the mind. In the film’s final sequence, de Bankolé surveys a compound guarded by masked security officers with guns. The next minute, we see him inside the compound confronting the object of his search. When asked how he got in, he simply replies, “I used my imagination.” If you want to know how that occurs, I would echo the film’s message and say – use your imagination. That’s all that there is anyway.
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