Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Kontroll

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2004 at Loews Copley Place #4 (Boston Film Festival)

My first impression of Kontroll was that it was the work of a sort of Hungarian Danny Boyle, although the specific movie it reminds me of most is Doug Liman's Go. That's pretty good company to be in; Nimród Antal's movie is a fast-paced, occasionally dark comedy with a driving soundtrack, populated by young characters living on the fringes.

The film centers around a group of ticket inspectors in the Budapast subway; apparently, instead of having turnstiles, passengers just walk right in, and it's up to the inspectors to make sure that the people on the train have actually paid. It is not, as one may imagine, a job which confers much respect or pay, and attracts the peculiar.

The group that the audience follows is nominally led by "The Professor", a sad-faced middle-aged man resigned to this as his lot in life; it also includes Tibi the new guy, Lescó the narcoleptic, Muki the belligerant guy, and Bulscú (Sándor Csányi). Bulscú never actually leaves the Metro, sleeping in the stations during his off-hours and making friends with one of the drivers, Béla.

As humdrum as the inspectors' jobs sound, it's frequently peculiar or downright surreal. There's a stupid workplace rivalry with one Gonzó (who is favored by the bosses) and his group that leads to a potentially fatal rail running race. There are weird customers, such as the one who brings his unmuzzled dog on the train, or the pimp and his "clients" who tries to pay via barter. One passenger who captivates Bulscú is a pretty girl (Eszter Balla) riding the subway dressed in a big teddy-bear costume. There's a vandal called "Bootsie" whose ass, the team feels, desperately needs kicking. On a more disturbing note, the number of suicides committed by people jumping into that path of an oncoming train is on the rise, and the audience can see that they're not suicides at all.

Kontroll has a lot of balls in the air, but Antal has the knack for moving quickly and for prioritizing. It's clear early on that the movie is Bulscú's story, and while the other characters are entertaining and undoubtably have stories of their own, the movie never becomes an ensemble piece. There's only one or two scenes that seem to go on too long, and not by much, and the director knows that a little obvious foreshadowing can go a long way. There are also a few exciting (and funny) chase scenes, full of pushing and shoving in crowded tunnels. When violence happens, it happens with shocking suddenness.

Full disclosure - I didn't immediately "get" one of the more surreal sequences; one of the disadvantages of the festival experience is that by the fourth movie of the day, your mind might not be totally sharp, especially if you're shuttling between two theaters and subsisting on a popcorn diet. I get pretty literal-minded at that point, although the metaphor of the tunnel to the hidden part of the subway system (Bulscú's entire world) should be fairly obvious to most.

Hungary doesn't seem to produce a lot of movies, or at least not a lot that make it to the United States, and don't know what sort of thriving film industry the country has. I'm guessing a somewhat conservative one from the disclaimer at the front, making sure we understand that Kontroll doesn't accurately reflect the employees of the Budapest Metro but that they chose to allow filming anyway to support the filmmaker's art (which struck me as simultaneously progressive and quaint). So a film like Kontroll is a pleasant surprise, filled with actors free of baggage from previous roles and feeling rather polished despite its grimy setting.

1 comment:

siddharth said...

Excellent report man. I loved the film when i saw it at the Pune (India) international film festival. I also downloaded the film from just one link that i found but to my disappointment it is in german with no subtitles. Do you know from where can i download the english subtitled version? If you do know please send mea link.