The Limits of Control
When it comes to American independent cinema, there’s no one quite like Jim Jarmusch, the celebrated auteur behind such classics as Stranger Than Paradise and Only Lovers Left Alive. Eschewing his usual American landscapes in favour of a variety of locations throughout urban and rural Spain, his 2009 anti-thriller The Limits of Control remains one of his most alluring and multi-layered creations.
An enigmatic loner (Isaach de Bankolé, Black Panther, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) arrives in Spain, instructed to make contact with a series of strangers in different locations throughout the country, each of whom provides a cryptic clue which propels him further towards his mysterious goal. But who is the Lone Man? Why is he here? And how does the recurring figure of an alluring femme fatale (Paz de la Huerta, Enter the Void) fit into the puzzle?
Boasting stunning cinematography by the award-winning Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love) and featuring cameos from an array of celebrated character actors, including Tilda Swinton (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También) and the late John Hurt (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), The Limits of Control is a languid, hauntingly beautiful film that combines the best of American and European arthouse sensibilities.
Arrow Academy presents Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. It has been encoded here at 1080p/24hz.
Universal has provided Arrow the master and the provided notes in the included booklet don’t indicate when it was made or where it was scanned from. I can’t imagine Universal doing an all-new scan for this film and because of that I suspect the master is more than likely an older one, maybe coming from a digital intermediate and maybe what was used for the original Universal DVD (and I assume what was also used for the German Blu-ray released in 2009). If that is the case, I’m happy to say it has held up remarkably well. It has a lovely film-like texture to it, rendering grain cleanly and naturally, and delivering the sharp details that can be found in the Spanish backdrop and the main protagonist’s sharp looking suits.
The film’s colour scheme leans more towards a warmer yellow/cyan look, but it seems intentional and it’s not overdone (the DVD looked similar, though I never saw the film theatrically), and I thought saturation looked wonderful. Black levels can be a bit iffy: brighter scenes have nice blacks while some darker shots can show crush in the shadows, but on the whole they’re deep. Ultimately this is a minor issue, and with the aid of a clean source print and no digital artifacts of note, the disc delivers a very pleasing image.
Arrow includes both a 2.0 PCM stereo track and a 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track. I only listened to the 5.1 surround presentation. Though technically a spy/hitman film it is more reflective in nature and the only real action in the film has the main protagonist wandering the landscape for lengthy periods. Still, the film does feature a decent mix thanks to the film’s score that gets spread out nicely between the speakers, and the film’s dialogue is sharp and clear.
The Universal DVD sported a couple of supplements that do make it over onto this edition, but Arrow adds a couple of their own features as well. First is a 34-minute interview with Geoff Andrew, author of the book Stranger Than Paradise: Maverick Film-Makers in Recent American Cinema. Andrew talks about Jarmusch’s work as a whole, talking about common themes, stylistic choices, his sense of humour, his sense of humanity and more (even correcting what he feels are common misconceptions about his work), explaining how they’re still showcased in The Limits of Control. He even argues how he sees the film as a more political one in how he uses the film’s sole American character played by Bill Murray.
Andrew’s contribution is a strong overview of Jarmusch’s work (and there are some fun little asides, like how Jarmusch belongs to a club for people that look like Lee Marvin) but I found a video essay by Amy Simmons, called The Rituals of Control, to a far more rewarding analysis of the film itself. Compared to Jarmusch’s other films this one is a bit more laid back despite its plot (Simmons calling the it a hitman film “stripped of action”), and she makes many comparisons to the work of Antonioni throughout her essay in its pacing and use of landscapes and architecture. But ultimately she feels the film is a celebration of art, from its protagonist’s wanderings through a Madrid art gallery to the discussions with the various characters throughout the film, with Tilda Swinton’s discussion about cinema being the most meta aspect to the film. She also goes over the film’s influences, Christopher Doyle’s camera work, and offers some background on the film’s production, making for a strong academic inclusion.
Arrow then includes the supplements found on the Universal DVD. This includes both parts of the 51-minute making-of Behind Jim Jarmusch, which acts more like a video journal, capturing the filming of a handful of scenes, including John Hurt’s and Bill Murray’s, while also getting interviews with a few members of the cast. Untitled Landscapes is then a 4-minute edit of some of the locations used in the film(made up of footage from the film itself).
Arrow then adds the film’s theatrical trailer (which wasn’t on the Universal disc) and then includes a booklet featuring an essay by Geoff Andrew, which sort of works as an addendum and summary for his video feature on the disc.
Not a loaded edition and I’m a bit surprised Jarmusch didn’t participate since he has been a very active participant on Criterion’s release of his films, but I found Arrow’s two new features to be very strong additions that should also aid those unsure of what to make of the film.
Sporting a solid presentation and some strong academic features, Arrow’s release of Jarmusch’s take on the hitman film is worth picking up.