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London Film Festival: The Unbearable Inarticulateness of Being

The Limits of Control
Directed by Jim Jarmusch

The Exploding Girl

Directed by Bradley Rust


In the early 1990s, slacker cinema was all the rage in American independent cinema, with wacky, mumbling characters, slow pacing and the mundanity of everyday life replacing traditional plots, characterisations and drama.

Which brings us to these two Amerindie offerings. Whereas the London Film Festival programmers found them delightful, bold and original, my experience in the cinema was rather different. And given the snoring and sighing I could hear among my fellow audience members, I suspect I was not alone in my lack of enthusiasm.

The Lonely Man, the anti-hero of The Limits of Control , is a blank canvas, a man with no name, no back story, next-to-no dialogue and no seeming motivation other than he is on some shadowy assignment involving the exchange of matchboxes with a parade of very talented actors in implausible outfits (step forward, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Gael Garcia Bernal) marooned in Spain. This involves several visits to an art museum in Madrid, numerous orders of espressos in separate cups and a series of alarmingly shiny suits, one for each stage of his assignment.

Jarmusch seems interested in rituals and repetition, as The Lonely Man keeps to his routine in whatever city or town he finds himself, folding his suit jacket, running through his martial arts positions, memorising the codes he is given and swallowing the notes with his espressos. The only break in his routine is one visit to a flamenco rehearsal when he actually displays emotion, smiling and clapping at the performance. But then it is back to the cryptic assignations and rituals. Without the benefit of some kind of emotional engagement with this character, who carries the film, it proves a very, very dull, as well as baffling, journey.

exploding-girl-still2In The Exploding Girl, even less happens, without even the compensation of the lovely scenery of rural Spain or the cameos. Here, a whiny college student comes home for spring break, has a series of monosyllabic phone conversations with her idiotic boyfriend and stares into space a lot for no discernible reason, with many of the shots blocked by passing cars and pedestrians. This all happens very, very slowly for 77 minutes. Dazed and Confused has a lot to answer for.

– Val Phoenix