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KONTROLL, 2003
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Movie Reviews

Director: Nimród Antal

Cast: Sándor Csányi, Zoltán Mucsi, Csaba Pindroch, Sándor Badár, Zsolt Nagy
Review by Jane Hopkins


SYNOPSIS:

The massive labyrinthine netherworld that is the Budapest subway system provides the stunning setting for 'Kontroll,' a high-style, high-speed romantic thriller in which the lives of assorted outcasts, lovers, and dreamers intersect and collide. One handsome young hero, one mysterious maiden, and one particularly nasty killer must conduct a race against time, trains, and destiny itself in their frantic pursuit of one another.

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REVIEW:

Thank goodness for DVD. Occasional problems with region encoding aside, it allows us to view films from all over the world. It lets us appreciate talented artists we may otherwise have never even known about. It means that those of us who weren’t in Hungary in 2003 – or, indeed, at any point in time – can still enjoy Nimrod Antal’s dark comedy “Kontroll.” While we’re at it, thank goodness also for subtitles.

“Kontroll” is the story of a group of ticket-takers working in the Budapest Metro. Faced with harried commuters, these brave souls have a rough job: making sure that each and every passenger has bought a ticket. The story focuses mainly on Bulscu, who for some reason lives his whole life in the underground. He passes the time by “running the rail,” a game in which he and a rival must race each other along the tracks, outrunning the train by a matter of feet or even inches. Bulcsu’s life becomes notably brighter when he meets Szofi, a young woman who rides the metro while wearing a bear suit. But there is a more menacing presence in the underground: Arnyek, or “Shadow,” a hooded figure who may be responsible for a recent increase in the number of so-called suicides.

The film opens with a sinister scene, and although it features humorous touches, “Kontroll” maintains a grim tone. This is due in no small part to the setting. The movie was filmed on location in the Budapest Metro, the second oldest subway in the world, and as a result the audience feels trapped in a world of claustrophobic tunnels and grimy darkness. Yet the Metro also holds a particular beauty, and by the end of the film, it’s almost become a character itself.

The cast is solid, with Sandor Csanyi turning in a brooding performance as Bulcsu. Eszter Balla is appealing as oddball Szofi, and in the role of her train-driving father Bela, Lajos Kovacs is especially endearing. All of Bulcsu’s comrades are amiable misfits, though the comic standout is probably Csaba Pindroch as the narcoleptic Muki.

The soundtrack mainly features catchy techno pieces, though there is also the occasional nod to film noir.

Antal and co-writer Jim Adler leave aspects of “Kontroll” up to the audience’s interpretation, especially when it comes to the Arnyek character. The world as Bulcsu sees it is often dreamlike, despite the dirty, litter-strewn reality of the underground. As such, it’s sometimes difficult to be sure if what we are seeing is, in fact, the truth.

While it doesn’t beat us over the head with this concept, “Kontroll” also addresses how casually nasty people can be to one another. Throughout the film, we see the ticket-takers endure some shocking abuse at the hands of the subway passengers. Things come to a head in one haunting scene, when Bulcsu’s jittery friend Laci (Laszlo Nadasi) is found threatening the life of a commuter. As blood pours from his busted nose, Laci explains that when he asked to see the man’s ticket, he was promptly punched in the face. Why did the commuter do that to a person who was just doing his job? Because he thought he could get away with it.

Those who aren’t keen on subtitled films should still give this one a go. With its gritty setting and likable cast, “Kontroll” is a memorable portrait of people who feel they’re teetering on the edge – and considering where they work, that’s not the best place to be.

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