Dir. Antal Nimród, 2003, Hungary, 105mins, subtitled
As an old expression goes, if you want to know a city visit it's prisons and hospitals, so too can you include it's public transport, and as experience and common knowledge dictate that pretty much everyone hates the people who populate jobs that give the smallest amount of authority, director Nimrod Antal's Kontroll tells the story of ticket inspectors on Budapest's gothic underground railway system, observing both a culture and the most hated people in that culture at the same time.
Brooding antihero Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi) is the most hated person in Budapest. Acting as leader to his not-so-merry band of ill-fated and clearly eccentric ticket inspectors, he has severed all links with life on the surface, running away from a troubled past we are never privy to, and inhabiting his subterranean surroundings day and night, (his bed is a deserted platform). His meaningless job consists of running after fare dodgers who see him as an annoyance and an irritating creep, berating members of the public to see their tickets, and chasing after Bootsie a kid who's main aim in life is to torture ticket inspectors.
If all of this isn't enough there's the small matter of having to deal with a rival gang of inspectors headed by the thick headed Gonzó, a blundering fascist who takes great pride in the small amount of power afforded him by his Kontroll armband, and his secret police-like lackeys. And, not forgetting a shadowy, mysterious figure who is murdering commuters by throwing them into the path of oncoming trains, terrorising not only the commuters, but the inspectors and their bosses too, who wish to maintain a safe, commuter friendly service.
All in all Bulcsú's life is going nowhere, trapped in self-hatred, stress, and apathy. That is until one day he spies the girl of his dreams, Sofia, travelling the underground in a giant mouse costume and begins to fall in love, and a glimmer of hope that he may emerge from his underground limbo.
Kontroll is a visually stunning, kinetic, very funny, fast paced and highly entertaining debut movie. Antal's writing and direction is assured, highly stylised, and very cinematic with hardly a dull moment. His visual style is rich and metaphorical, with some filmic in-jokes thrown in for good measure (witness the nerve centre of the ticket inspectors operations room and I defy you not to be reminded of the war room in Kubrick's Dr.Strangelove ).
His characterization is spot on, with Bulcsú's motley crew's providing most of the humour and humanity in the tale, from Muki the narcoleptic who suffers from it the angrier he gets, (which in this line of work is quite often), The Professor, an old hand at the game, who berates everyone over everything, stubborn in the knowledge that he is always right, consistently winding up Muki, Tibi, the new recruit on his first day, out of his depth but following valiantly all the same, to The Controller who with a red birthmark covering the side of his face makes his threatening Gestapo character all the more intimidating.
The cinematography is intense and vibrant, reminiscent of Blade Runner in it's use of colour and slashes of light, really making use of the underground location, full of dark spaces, winding tunnels, hard sterile claustrophobic fluorescent lit platforms, and the complete absence of any natural light. And a hard and vibrant soundtrack makes Kontrll akin to rushing on a runaway carriage, scared, and excited at the same time.
The only gripe I have with Kontroll is that the end verges too much into a sub-par thriller, with a contrived showdown between Bulcsú and the murderous shadow, which is not only confusing, but feels a bit tacked on to gain some type of motivating force and closure to Bulcsú's predicament.
Having already won major prizes at Cannes and all the major Hungarian film festivals and a contender for best Foreign Film at next years Oscars I urge you to go see Kontroll, a kind of Hungarian Trainspotting, albeit if Trainspotting was set 100 feet below ground, and if Renton and co actually worked on trains.