aka Control : Hungary 2003 : ANTAL Nimrod : 105 mins
In terms of originality and wit, nothing in the boisterously amiable Hungarian crowdpleaser Kontroll matches its deadpan prologue, in which an earnest representative of Budapest’s subway explains why the film-makers were granted permission to shoot on the actual network, and requests that we don’t take the ensuing shenanigans as a documentary of actual practices. Instead we should interpret Kontroll - named after the motley, much-reviled squad of undercover ticket-inspectors – more on the “symbolic” level.
What follows may well yield such deeper meanings if subjected to sufficient scrutiny – but it’s probably more rewarding to accept Kontroll as nothing more or less than a mildly surreal, high-energy, sitcommish romp. That said, the central character isn’t exactly the party’s life and soul: gloomy, sallow, lank-haired – but scuzzily charismatic – Bulcsu (Csanyi Sandor), a literal “underground man” who hasn’t seen daylight for months, sleeping semi-rough on the platforms and fraternising only with the other (equally dysfunctional) members of his ticket-checking unit. Our surly anti-hero finds romantic distraction via bear-suited Szofi (Balla Eszter), but he comes under immediate suspicion when hapless passengers start being shoved under the train-wheels…
American-born-and-raised writer-director Antal (Hungarian surnames come first) bites off a little more than he can yet chew in his debut feature – he should perhaps ‘mind the gap’ between his ability and his ambition. The various plots and subplots are juggled quite nimbly, but some of metaphysical, philosophical and psychological dialogue feels awkwardly bolted onto material which, in its blokey workplace comedy, is essentially On the Buses with darkish dabs of Death Line, Subway and The Taking of Pelham 123.
And it’s debatable whether there’s really enough substance here to justify the 105-minute running-time: gag-montages in which Bulcsu’s crew argue with the passengers, while amusing and accurate, are repetitive and allowed to over-run, and the ending is a bit of a botch. It’s easy to ascribe these flaws to ‘first-time-itis’, however, as Kontroll is so consistently well-observed and convincingly acted by its ensemble cast, and Antal’s control of sound and image evocatively brings to life a self-contained subterrania of harsh, electric neons and alluringly grimy darkness.
3rd September, 2004
(seen 21st August : UGC Edinburgh : public show – Edinburgh Film Festival)
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by Neil Young