Nimrod Antal’s feature film debut is this odd, goofy meditation of a troubled man named Bulcsú who disappeared from his former life above ground and now works as a ticket inspector for the Budapest subway system, seemingly waiting for inspiration to manifest while he deals with crazy members of the general public, as well as eccentric colleagues.
Secondary, if not tangential to the story is a murderous, hooded man responsible for pushing innocents into the paths of oncoming trains, and making it appear the subway system is plagued by a sudden spike in suicides. The mystery only kicks in when Bulcsú becomes a suspect, but it remains less important to Bulcsú's personal crises.
Similar to Luc Besson’s new wave ‘thriller’ Subway (1985), the story follows a rebel who becomes involved with a morally ambiguous woman while ‘hiding out’ in the subway system of a major city. Dressed in a pink bear suit, the woman, Szofi, is alsoin search of a purposeful life, and she too spends her time riding the trains as well as crawling through dark areas of the system.
The potential couple is affective in the way they’ve chosen to surround themselves with abusive riders, vulgar coworkers, and selfish citizens; it’s as though daily exposure to the coarsest level of social behaviour plus a life in darkness and solitude will aid them in finding a meaningful path, be it social or career-wise.
Bulcsú’s colleagues are a mix of oddballs (a narcoleptic, a sadist, and abusive manager) as well as cocksure/not too bright son working alongside his aging, forgetful father, and while no one’s an outright failure, they’re men who’ve settled for strange lives in the city’s underbelly, and want nothing more. Bulcsú’s moral barometer is Szofi’s father Bela, a train driver who sometimes drinks on the job, but also offers moments of private consult when things get heavy for our lost hero. (Bela is also a refuge from the surface world, having crashed a train and ruined his chance of driving ‘real’ machines again.)
Kontroll is very European in the way Antal opts for nuances instead of plot, and the finale is more the conclusion to a series of linked episodes; the film is ultimately about a lost man who finds himself, and emerges above ground with a steely determination to turn his life around.
We never learn details of Bulcsú’s past occupation, nor why the hooded killer is going after strangers, but the two are important to each other when one random act sets off stressors that force Bulcsú to emerge from a hazy lifestyle that even baffled some of his underground colleagues. Interestingly, in Besson’s Subway, it’s a roller skating punk who catches the attention of anti-hero Fred, and in Kontroll it’s the death of a roller skating punk that transforms Bulcsú into the film’s anti-hero.
Directorially, Antal avoids flashy editing and lets the camera glide through Budapest’s massive subway system, and much like his work in his Hollywood thrillers Vacancy (2007) and Armored (2009), he balances this sleek style with character vignettes, and a steady pace. There are no wasted shots nor indulgent scenes, and the editing and camerawork are quite beautiful, considering the quantity of grunge and smeared ketchup prevalent in many locations.
Antal’s camera slso explores subway system’s architecture, including its platforms, employee break rooms, washrooms, tunnels, and side routes, and like Armored, Antal offers up a few visual gags, such as when Bulcsú walks towards or stands in front of ducts or escalators, which in wide shots, forms a human skull, a large maw, or a face.
The film actually begins with a prologue from a representative of Budapest’s subway system who explains - at the urging of Antal - that Kontroll and its rebellious, grubby inspectors in no way reflect the real employees and quality of service that exists in Budapest.
Velocity’s DVD is a bare bones release, and while the surround sound mix is adequate, Kontroll really deserves a proper special edition, if not a remastering with its original DTS mix to show off the sound design, and Neo’s punchy electronic score.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan