#55. Limite (1931)

Tried to figure it out, failed.

While watching Limite I filled the front and back of a college-ruled page with notes but as I look over those notes now, settling down to write the essay, I see that they don’t say very much and that what I was clearly trying to do was impose meaning on an experimental movie that was very beautiful, with one of the loveliest and most hypnotic film scores I’ve ever heard, but that otherwise just confused the hell out of me. Presuming that the Editors who put this List together have selected the movies with very good reason, I find that even forty minutes into a movie like Limite — which just isn’t for me — I’m still working really hard to not just understand it but to enjoy it. Like it’ll prove something about my intelligence if I can say it was worthwhile. And there definitely is some stuff to appreciate. Beautiful photography (is this the first time a camera goes 360 degrees around a character?), beautiful music, the edginess of a gay romance. Amazing mood and tone. But otherwise I really disliked it and think it might be the most boring movie from the List so far after maybe Napoleon and The Great White Silence.

But why then do I try so hard to enjoy a movie like Limite, which is artsy and Brazilian, but then with a movie like October, or The Phantom of the Opera, I’m comfortable to just sink lower in my seat after a half hour of boredom and stop taking notes because I’ve decided that there’s nothing too crucial?

When it comes to movies like Eisenstein’s insufferable trilogy of Leninist propaganda (of which October is the conclusion) I think that part of my dismissal has to do with politics. That it feels more like a treatise or a commercial than like a work of art — a sentiment that, now that I’m putting it down on paper, reveals to me that I seem to think art has to be about emotion, what my college self would’ve unflinchingly called the Human Condition, and that politics can’t factor into that. But aren’t politics a part of the human experience? Why not hold an artist’s handling of themes like democracy and socialism in the same regard as their handling of themes like failure and grief?

But I’m writing this essay a couple weeks after seeing the movie and, looking back, I’m pleased with myself for having put so much effort into understanding Limite. I’m skimming through the movie again too on FilmStruck and it just seems like a montage of people walking for several minutes at a time. I read an essay about the film on Criterion and the author, Fabio Andrade, pieces together a plot out of these images and yeah, it makes total sense, but I’m left to just marvel at Andrade’s ability to decipher a narrative from all this. And yeah I see the influences he points out, stuff like Eisenstein’s montage work and also the Murnau desire to make film totally imagistic, distinct from other sorts of storytelling. I see it, now that it’s pointed out to me. I see the value.

For the life of me, though, I just can’t find it.


  • Dude, I just decided that I didn’t understand it and never would, and called it good.

    Not everyone is supposed to like anything, and not everything is going to be liked by everyone. There are people for whom LIMITE is exactly the thing they’re looking for. The fact that I’m not one of those people is not a reflection on me. Nor is that the case for you. That’s actually something I strongly believe with my own reviews – I don’t feel like I HAVE to like something if it’s a much-lauded work…all I can do is say whether I liked it or not. I’m a unique person and I have to stay true to who I am. And if part of that is “I thought LIMITE was boring as dog’s ass,” then so be it.


    • Lmao, I like that perspective, and we appear to be kindred spirits in this respect. Is there a forthcoming title, though, where you feel like Rocky, like you’ve gotta almost train for it? Like you’re coming up on 1939: do you not feel that angst that I felt of, like, “How do i write in an informed or interesting way about something like Gone with the Wind or Oz or Citizen Kane?”?


      • Nnnnnnot really, actually.

        I never really claimed to be an expert on anything other than My Opinion About A Film anyway, though. I do get why a given film can be intimidating, especially if it has the whole weight of critical acclaim behind it – but that doesn’t mean that I’m required to also like it. And if I don’t, I don’t.

        I may have had the advantage of being a literary manager for a small theater company here for a few years; I have been in kind of an unusual headspace for a while as a result when it comes to Judging Art. There’ve been a few artists in the theater scene where I almost feel like there’s a “famous for being famous” thing going on, where I suspect that a lot of their popularity is coming from the fact that they have a reputation for being Cool and so a lot of people profess to like them because they think that liking that artist makes THEM cool. That never made sense to me, so I was always of the attitude that “so what if everyone else likes something, if you don’t like it then you don’t”. At the very least I try to think about why I don’t; with many of the films, there’s often a cultural mismatch of some kind.

        I also did some volunteer reviewing for an old theater site here (it’s been taken down, alas) that was edited by a guy with this same approach. He gave all his new volunteers the same pep talk – that at the end of the day, you are reporting on what you personally thought of what your experience was like when you went to see the show. Everyone is an expert on their own opinion of something, and your own opinion is all you are offering. People are free to agree or disagree as they see fit.

        I also have had no training in filmmaking whatsoever, and my literary background has been more in the world of nonfiction and plays; so being a total novice to film has been freeing. I often don’t know what critics may have thought of a film at all before diving in, so all I have to go on IS my opinion. My roommate has occasionally given me a quick 2-minute lecture on basic stuff like “what is cinematography and why should I care” or “what makes a screwball comedy a screwball comedy”, but other than that I jump into this all blind. Which, I figure, is the way that the audiences did when these films were first released anyway.


      • I forgot you’ve got a background in theater — I can see how that might give an interesting perspective. Kinda having one foot in familiar terrain and one foot in the dark. I remember staring off and getting really pensive as a teenager when I saw an interview with Tim Curry, he was talking about Rocky Horror, and he explained how, when you’re acting on stage, you’ve gotta act in these somewhat larger-than-life gestures so that people all around the theater can see it. With film, on the other hand, you’re privileged with a subtler, more nuanced, quiet performance.

        Do you envy the tool of a camera, were you to direct something, or would that just be a headache for you? Do you prefer the stage?

        And, strangely, even though I use the phrase famous-for-being-famous a handful of times a year, usually in reference to some social media star, I honestly don’t think I’ve thought about it in terms of the List until you just mentioned it. I think it’s cuz I’m kind of intimidated by all the verbiage in some of the little critical passages from the book.


      • Oh, I would never direct anything period. I don’t think I have the kind of people-wrangling skills a director would require.


      • And yeah, things in The Canon have a particularly weird weight to them – but I learned early that when things have that kind of weight to them, it sometimes works better f you ignore it. It’s something I learned from visual art, strangely – my mother had a lot of coffee table books about Van Gogh and Gaugin around when I was wee, and I’d get bored sometimes and flip through them. But I was just looking at the pictures – I never read any of the scholarly commentary because I was only eight and it was boring.

        But that was so freeing, because it exposed me to the work itself and showed me it existed without telling me that I should think a particular way ABOUT it. I was free to just decide “ooh, I like this one” or “eh, not into this one.”

        It’s that kind of tabula rasa kind of mind I try to keep when watching the films. I NEVER read the critical essays before watching anything, I always wait until after. That way my own gut reaction already exists, and it’s a foundation I’m building on. Even if the place I end up is “well, I don’t agree with any of the critics, so be it”.


  • Very interesting discussion above. I concur on all of it really. I try to be as ignorant of the movie going in so my impression and my review is entirely my own. Some times that means I am so far off the mark that it is embarrassing, but my readers are so few and very forgiving so I can live with that.
    Recently I made a list of the ten worst movies on the list so far. Limite was my first pick for that list. No further comment necessary.


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