Thursday, December 5, 2013

Kontroll (2003)

I love films set in subways and Nimrod Antal's Budapest-set Kontroll is a mostly cracking example of this sub(way)-genre. Gritty, funny, anarchic with a pulsing soundtrack it really should be a cult classic but an attempt to make the underground setting symbolic of the wider world (the way an increasingly polarised and violent culture can infect everyone with that violence) begins to dilute the film's visceral qualities towards the end. But those qualities are considerable. Bulcsu (Sandor Csanyi) is a ticket inspector who never leaves the Metro, spending his nights sleeping on the platforms. He's part of a crew of oddballs that include veteran Professzor (Zoltan Mucsi), machete-weilding nutter Lecso (Sandor Badar), narcoleptic Muki (Csaba Pindroch) and new arrival Tibi (Zsolt Nagy). Their days are spent being disrespected, assaulted and evaded by gangs, pimps, tourists, junkies and countless others who don't have tickets. While all this is mostly played for thrills and laughs, at the same time, people are committing suicide at an unusual rate. Soon we discover there's a serial killer on the loose pushing passengers to the deaths. And this hooded, nightmare figure looks uncomfortably like Bulcsu. Could the relentless air of conflict have sent him over the edge? Along the way he meets the beautiful Szofi (Eszter Balla), wearing a beguiling bear suit and minis a ticket. Bewitched, he lets her go. Soon a bond develops between them. Can she be his salvation, the one to help him back into the light? For most of the time Kontroll is equally bewitching, atmospheric and entertaining. But once it tries to answer these questions it drifts towards too-obvious symbolism. The real pleasure of the film, however, lies in its physical evocation of the underground, Budapest's famous old metro system (the second oldest in the world), with its vertiginous escalators, empty platforms, glowing air vents, the sound of trains rushing through tunnels, eerie banks of fluorescent lights flickering on and off, belligerent passengers, a near-lawless atmosphere where the vividly cartoonish inspectors are nearly as dangerously deranged as the people they deal with. For all this Kontroll is a journey well worth taking. 

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