The City of No Limits Review

Not so long ago, Iberian cinema spelt Almodovár to your average Joe Bloggs - that is if Mr. Bloggs paid attention to what was showing at his local arthouse. Over the last half decade however, Spain has become a hothouse of fresh new talent - Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), Solas, The Devil's Backbone and Intacto have enchanted viewers worldwide with their unusual touch and latent sensuality. En La Ciudad Sin Límites (The City of No Limits) is no different in that it find its own distinct voice as well as that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes these films compelling to watch even when little is happening on screen.

Opening in a low-lit hospital, the film follows Max, a dying elderly man, as he meanders in the midst of the night, bearing a button in his hand and stammering the word "Rancel". As he finds his way to the roof, he drops the button over the edge - we see it twist and turn until it lands with a sonic whoosh in the camera lens. After this thriller-like start, we then move into the midst of a family melodrama as Max's youngest son, Victor (Leonardo Sbaraglia) flies in from Argentina to make amends with his father. Unlike his brothers Luis (Roberto Álvarez) and Alberto (Álex Casanovas), Victor had no interest in running the family's pharmaceutical empire and seems to have fallen out with his parents over that. Now with the strong likelihood of Max passing away, Luis, Alberto and their mother Marie (Geraldine Chaplin) are frantically trying to run the business while still watching over Max. But why exactly has Max been transferred to a Parisian hospital when he's spent his entire life in Spain? Victor, now eager to build bridges, becomes the one Max lets into his secret - but Victor can make neither head nor tail of what his father starts to tell him.

The director/co-writer obviously had some trouble choosing what genre to situate his story within: when confronted with equally tempting choices, he decides to try a little bit of everything and by and large, this works quite well. Though some of the changes in tone are a little jarring, this enhances the feeling of dislocation that is conveyed on all levels of this film. Relationships are ambiguous, family ties are fragile and even Max's illness seems rather elusive and unclear. The choice to situate the action in Paris with a Spanish-speaking cast is another obvious symbol of this distortion - all the characters aspire towards the ineffable ideals that they once held dear but which they now find so hard to stick to. These themes are all analysed in depth with great finesse but at times it gets in the way of the plotting. The first 45 minutes take a long time to pass but the action then starts to pick up and the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. However, I didn't really mind these meanderings since the cast were all putting in excellent performances in some incredibly well written scenes, particularly the confrontations between Luis' ex-wife and new wife. Each character's mindset also seems to affect the cinematography - Max's paranoid moments give way to some wild, swooping steadicam shots whilst the thoughtful Victor is treated to a great deal of slow and pensive camera work from a high angle. Though the film could have arguably delivered the pay off in a shorter running time, the nonchalance in this case adds to the film's depth as it delivers the rare trick of being moving, intelligent and very intriguing at the same time. Another fine example of rigorous Latin film-making which brings out the most of the characters without having to use clichés of any of the genres it borrows from.

The DVD:
Though the Spanish release features the Director's Cut, this release seems to be the theatrical cut which runs for 121 mins (despite the box claiming it runs for 125 mins). Given the PAL speedup, this should pretty much be the 116 minute cut found on the first side of the Spanish DVD (as reviewed by Noel Megahey here).

The Image:
As with Warriors and Fausto 5.0, the image is once again good but not sourced from too good a print. I'm under the impression this may be the same print as the Spanish release given that this also suffers from speckles and minor print damage throughout the film. The colours are stable but seem a little too vigorous with a decent contrast level. Again the transfer is anamorphic in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

The sound and the subtitles:
The Spanish 5.1 mix starts out quite grandly with a heavy use of surrounds but it then quietens down as the film becomes more intimate. Still the surrounds are used when needed and the dialogue is kept firmly in the centre. The English dub is as ever dire and is only in 2.0. Give it a miss.

The subtitles are a bit unusual - some of film's dialogue in in French but most of the characters do not understand French so they have made the choice of never subtitling the French dialogue. Though not that much is missed, I've got the vague impression that at least some of this dialogue would have been subtitled on the Spanish release. That said the subtitles are well written and seem to not miss any Spanish dialogue so no quibbles there.

As the film stands up pretty well by itself and isn't as puzzling as the likes of Fausto 5.0, the lack of extras don't really stand out. The sound is good as is the video so it's a globally good release of this film.

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