Kontroll Review

An example of seductive sensory cinema in which atmospheric sound and image trump narrative depth, Nimród Antal's beguiling Kontroll concerns ticket inspectors in Budapest's labyrinth subway system forced to deal with fare-evaders and, more troublingly, a psycho who's shoving unsuspecting victims under moving trains. Yet less a mystery or thriller than a psychedelic examination of amplifying psychosis, Antal's debut focuses on Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), a disinterested subway employee who sleeps on the station floors (instead of going home) and likes to risk death by "railing" (a game in which one furiously runs behind the evening's last commuter train, and in front of the Midnight Express). Bulcsú has hermetically sealed himself off from reality, choosing to bury himself alive in a locomotive-filled prison as a means of fleeing some unspecified past trauma. And Antal's film - through a combination of Gyula Pados' stunning and mind-bending cinematography and Neo's throbbing score - depicts his underground home as a metaphor for his growing psychological and emotional isolation.

A disinterest in conventional genre elements generally works to this Hungarian import's advantage, as its allegorical plot is bolstered by a stunning blend of audio and visual ingenuity. Antal and Pados drench their film in grimy greens, decaying blacks, and a dearth of natural illumination - shot on location on Budapest's subway platforms and tracks, the film is awash in flickering, eye-searing fluorescent lights. Yet theirs is not a cinema vérité aesthetic; rather, their inventively disorienting, trancelike cinematography turns the train station into a surrealistic cocoon populated by glassy-eyed malcontents divorced from normal Earthly sensations like sunlight and wind. "This just proves my point. You are a product of your environment," someone says early on about Bulcsú's growing instability, yet the point also applies to Kontroll itself, which defines itself via its claustrophobic, secluded, and progressively more fantastic setting. Set to Neo's antsy electronic score - which skips and stutters with manic intensity, reflecting Bulcsú's jittery, fraying state of mind - Antal's film is like a disquieting techno lullaby in which the serene and the manic, the real and the unreal, contentedly coexist.

Saddled with an introductory disclaimer that its story does not accurately depict Budapest's (likely more mundane) subway operation, Kontroll nonetheless paints a rather amusing portrait of civil workers stuck in a job the general public views with disdain. Bulcsú and his ticket inspector cohorts - a motley crew of slackers and wise-asses dripping with contempt for their profession - are charged with randomly stopping commuters and demanding to see their ticket stubs, a thankless duty that provides Antal with opportunities for amusingly antagonistic comedy involving Bulcsú and his friends' run-ins with cheery tourists, punks, and a pimp escorting his bevy of skimpily dressed whores. Still, Antal's script is long on amusing vignettes and short on thematic profundity, saddling its alienated protagonist with a love interest (Eszter Balla's bear costume-wearing Szofi, the daughter of a friendly train operator) and the aforementioned serial killer subplot, but paying only scant attention to either. More successful is its horrifying dream sequence - in which Bulcsú traverses an increasingly narrowing tunnel in search of the hooded murderer - and the finale, a hypnotic, hallucinatory costume party rave that, like Antal's subterranean film, ironically succeeds largely on the basis of its mesmerizing surface.


Facts and Figures

Run time: 105 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 20th November 2003

Box Office USA: $0.1M

Budget: $500 thousand

Distributed by: ThinkFilm Inc.

Production compaines: Café Film, Bonfire


Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 54 Rotten: 12

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Nimród Antal

Producer: Tamás Hutlassa

Starring: Sándor Csányi as Bulcsú, as Muki, Zoltán Mucsi as Professor, Sándor Badár as Lecsó, as Tibi, Bence Mátyássy as Bootsie, Gyözö Szabó as Shadow, Lajos Kovács as Béla, as Szofi, László Nádasi as Laci, György Cserhalmi as Big Boss

Also starring: