The Limits of Control (2009)

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A solitary man who does not speak Spanish is an underground courier. Two men who are both thuggish and philosophical send him to Madrid with cryptic instructions. Over the course of a few days, he receives his instructions from a series of distinctive individuals who provide words of philosophy or of warning and also give him a matchbox with a tiny piece of paper, which he reads then eats, accompanied by espresso served in two cups. He is quiet, self-contained, focused on his work. He has rules. He encounters and at times transmits a violin, diamonds, a guitar, and a map. Is he a smuggler? Merely an independent conduit? Or, something else?
Isaach De Bankolé as Lone Man
Alex Descas as Creole
Jean-François Stévenin as French
Óscar Jaenada as Waiter
Luis Tosar as Violin
Paz de la Huerta as Nude
Tilda Swinton as Blonde
Youki Kudoh as Molecules
John Hurt as Guitar
Gael García Bernal as Mexican
Hiam Abbass as Driver
Bill Murray as American
Héctor Colomé as Second American
María Isasi as Flamenco Club Waitress
Norma Yessenia Paladines as Flight Attendant
Full cast
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File Size
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1307 Kbps
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The Limits of Boredom would be a more apt title to this movie.


Beautifully made, but better serves as Spain's extended version of commercial for tourism.


I'm going to guess that this film would appeal almost exclusively to Jarmusch fans. For others, patience is needed along with the conscious expectation of only a few seconds of pay-off at the end. Perhaps an allegory for bondage/freedom, the audience is at the mercy of Jarmusch. And he takes control through long, aesthetically beautiful shots, repetition, and a nearly silent film. OK, some nice musical moments, and a few lines from Swinton, Hurt, and Murray. If you feel drowsy, better wait for a time when your full attention can be mustered.


There's THAT kind of movie - one that tells a story and has a coherent plot... and then there's THIS kind of movie... a mental puzzle, the kind of film you have to watch a second and third time and maybe more to figure out. If you've seen David Lynch's Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, or Inland Empire, that's the kind of movie The Limits of Control is. The star of the film, Isaach DeBankole, appears to be a hit man who's been contracted to kill Bill Murray. But he also exchanges match boxes with various characters for most of the film. He gives someone a match box full of diamonds and in exchange gets a match box with some kind of code written on paper which he eats. Is this part of his hit man job or something else? Is he a diamond smuggler on the side? I don't know. I'll have to see it again... and maybe still won't be able to figure it out. If you don't like puzzle movies, don't go to this one.

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