Kontroll (2003)

May 18, 2007

Kontroll is an interesting, offbeat film by Hungarian director Nimrod Antal. As with most interesting, offbeat films, I’m somewhat reluctant to recommend it outright, since such films often are more polarizing ones that will either resonate with you meaningfully or else just bore you to tears. kontroll2.jpgI have a feeling, however, that Kontroll probably hits more than it misses. It may not be a perfect film, and I imagine it might start to drag in parts if I watched it a second time – but it does seem to have something for everybody. In fact, it can equally be considered comedy, action, or drama. It’s a funny, entertaining, stylish film that also tackles some very serious questions.

Earlier this year, I mentioned that Cache made me aware that perhaps I should be paying more attention to some of the films coming out of film festivals like Cannes. (The festival’s going on now, by the way, and celebrating its 60th anniversary. I was excited to see that this year’s festival was opening with a film called Blueberry Nights by Chinese director Kar Wai Wong [of In the Mood for Love fame]; I was a little less excited when I saw the film starred Norah Jones and Jude Law, but I guess the guy knows what he’s doing.) Kontroll reinforced this notion with me. With the sheer number of quality international films coming out these days, it can be hard to know which ones are worth checking out, but keeping up with the buzz coming out of these festivals is a good place to start.

All of Kontroll takes place underground in Budapest’s metro system. I have always thought that the elaborate subterranean systems of subways make great settings for film – an appropriate location for any film dealing with what lies beneath a society, all its repressed fears, worries, hopes, etc. – and yet I’m still waiting for the consumate underground film. (For a recent example of how not to do such a film, check out Takashi Shimizu’s low budget J-horror film Marebito. Actually, don’t check it out . . . or if you do, do so only with low expecations.) Kontroll may not be the film I’ve been waiting for, but it certainly does play with those themes. kontroll.jpgThe main character, Bulcsu (Sandor Csanyi), seems to be going through an existential crisis. Working as a ticket inspector during the day, Bulcsu refuses to leave the station even at night, as he struggles to understand through the microcosm of the subway the meaning of life, justice, work, and love. The story of Bulcsu and his team searching through the tunnels for a man pushing innocent victims in front of trains is exciting, humorous, and fast-paced. The script is a little rough, and I don’t always relate with the characters or their motivations. Overall, however, I’d say that this film’s strengths largely outweigh its weakenesses and that the film is worthy of a viewing.

Hungary is not a country particularly well known for its cinematic tradition. In fact, I’m not sure, but I believe this might have been the first Hungarian film I had ever seen. I know it was the first film from Hungary to be shown at Cannes in 20 years. The film has a central/eastern European feel about it. Its humor is very visceral, and the scenery and actors in it have a bleak quality about them – even during the film’s more energetic and fun parts. Yet, I’d rate my first Hungarian film experience a positive one and hope that it’s a sign of more things to come (although it looks like the success of Kontroll has resulted in Hollywood stealing Antal away from his home country for the time being).