WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
A mysterious loner with a murky criminal past arrives in Spain ostensibly to carry out a mission though it’s not quite clear exactly what that might be. He walks (and walks and walks and walks) through various city streets towns and fields across the country on a journey that may be partially a dream or may be something else.
WHO’S IN IT?
Jarmusch veteran Isaach De Bankole (Night on Earth Ghost Dog Coffee and Cigarettes) is saddled with the role identified only as the Lone Man. Mainly he keeps returning to the same places and having the same conversations with people who remind him that “those who know they’re bigger than the rest should go to the cemetery.” Others ask him questions in Spanish (whether he understands any Spanish is unclear) to which he always replies in the negative. It’s an oddly silent deadpan performance written and played in one dimension. Other Jarmusch regulars also turn up including Bill Murray (for five minutes near the end) John Hurt Youki Kudoh Alex Descas and Tilda Swinton. If there was one reason to see this drivel it’s for Swinton’s trippy performance in blonde wig and big dark glasses — a lively cameo filled with filmic references from Rita Hayworth to Michelangelo Antonioni. The cast is rounded out with other fine actors whose talents are completely wasted including Gael Garcia Bernal Hiam Abbass and Paz de la Huerta.
Spain looks like a nice place to visit.
The Limits of Control is the kind of indulgence some filmmakers fall into when they feel they want to “stretch.” Unfortunately Jarmusch who has done some very interesting and distinctive film work including Down by Law Stranger Than Paradise and Broken Flowers just doesn’t have a story worth telling here. Experimental is fine but there should be some semblance of a coherent theme or point of view. Instead we mainly watch this guy walk in a dreamlike state for about two hours trying to figure out the meaning of a matchbox and repeatedly returning to the same waiter at an outdoor café to order two espressos in separate cups.
MOST MEMORABLE LINE OF DIALOGUE:
It’s a three-way tie:
”Wait three days until you see the bread. The guitar will find you.”
“Among us there are those who are not among us.”
And finally …
“Sometimes there are films where people just sit there.” (You got that one right!)
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX:
Netflix. At least if you snore through most of this you won’t be disturbing anyone else.
Like one of the week’s other new releases the uneven Smart People (ironically from the same producer Michael London) The Visitor also deals with a bored widowed Eastern college professor who finds a path to renew his soul through an unexpected relationship. The similarities stop there however as this simple but powerful movie gets it all right. The set up has the professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) travelling from his home in Connecticut to New York City for a conference. When he enters his rarely used apartment he is shocked to discover a young couple living there. Backing off his initial reaction to kick them out he agrees to let the pair stay as both are well-meaning illegal immigrants (the man is from Syria the girlfriend from Senegal) who unknowingly rented the apartment from an unscrupulous third party. Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) is a musician who plays a drum called the Djemba while Zainab (Danai Gurira) sells her handmade jewelry at street fairs. A bond develops between all three until things turn tragic and Tarek is unfairly detained and threatened with deportation over a technicality. When Tarek’s mother (Hiam Abbass) learns of this she travels from Michigan and teams up with Walter to try and win Tarek his freedom before it’s too late. For 60-year-old Richard Jenkins--a veteran journeyman actor best known as the father in the first season of Six Feet Under and several memorable supporting film roles--The Visitor represents his first significant leading role. He runs with it taking Walter on a journey from indifference to humanity to rebirth. He’s alternately funny serious angry driven emotional and compassionate. It’s early in the year but it’s hard to imagine come awards time there will be five better male performances. He’s marvelous and his own mastery of the Djemba is just one of the film’s many memorable moments. The rest of the cast will be unknown to most American audiences but are no less extraordinary. Sleiman and Gurira totally capture the loving relationship of this immigrant couple caught up trying to quietly live and work in a fear driven post 9/11 America. Special mention should go to Israeli Palestinian star Hiam Abbass who breaks our hearts as Tarek’s fiercely determined guilt-ridden mother. Her scenes with Jenkins are simply remarkable for their quiet power and honesty--two actors at the very top of their game. Coming on the heels of his acclaimed debut film The Station Agent Thomas McCarthy manages to avoid the sophomore curse and live up to and even exceed his initial promise as an all-purpose filmmaker (he also wrote the script). It should come as no surprise that McCarthy is also an actor since each performance he manages to get here is a gem. The characters are given plenty of time to develop and breathe and by the end none has worn out their welcome--in fact we don’t want to leave them. His command of the camera is impressive particularly since shooting a low-budget independent movie in the heart of New York City can be a pretty daunting task. What McCarthy really pulls off is balancing a sincere expertly made character piece against some hot button political issues. Never once does he resort to preaching but clearly by putting a human face on the wrenching subject matter he has created not only a film that could potentially make a difference but first and foremost an unforgettable movie that will stir your soul. See it.