Directed by Nimród Antal. Starring Sándor Csányi, Zoltán Mucsi, Csaba Pindroch, Sándor Badár, Zsolt Nagy, Balázs Lázár, Eszter Balla. (2003, R, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., July 8, 2005
According to this spry, relentlessly stylish satire, the Budapest subway system is the kind of place where people threaten each other with Gypsy curses and dirty syringes, amateur welders work on the rails, and even the white-collar business travelers don’t bother buying a ticket. Administered by a Kafkaesque bureaucracy in subterranean steampunk burrows with more backlit, slowly turning fans than the entire Ridley Scott oeuvre, the system employs five-member crews of ticket collectors – controllers – to ensure law, order, and proper payment of fares. This is the story of one group, a ragtag unit already on probation for breaking the rules. With the film’s slick, jazzy aesthetic and high beats per minute, you might call it Subwayspotting. The requisite weird little guy (Badár) even looks a little like Robert Carlyle as Begbie; in the film’s most delightfully odd moment, he advances on a violent passenger with a wood saw. There’s also the suave but mysterious guy (Csányi, who’s very striking on camera) who never goes above ground, the elegant and aging Professor (Mucsi), the Fucking New Guy (Nagy), and a blustery narcoleptic (Pindroch). They’re the kind of group fused together by foul working conditions, general anarchy, and the hate of the general public. They’re also the kind of guys who routinely wake up smeared with blood, ketchup, or something worse, and it’s somewhat normal for them to walk through a door into a brawl with pipe-wielding, face-painted hooligans. (The existence of these gangs is never explained; they’re just there.) First-time feature writer-director Antal is like the conductor of a midnight express: You just grab a rail and hold on while he whizzes through montages and extreme angles of impossibly precipitous escalators. One scene is lit almost entirely by the sparks of a road flare. He makes mistakes; the structure is repetitive at times, which makes the movie seem overlong, and there’s a clumsy bit of backstory for one character. But the film glows with a restless energy like no other of recent memory, illuminating a fully realized world underneath a bustling and impersonal city – a world of crunching metal and total alienation, where the veneer of politesse has worn through to reveal throbbing gristle. And though the story is thinly conceived, Antal throws a fantastic curveball in the second act. Kontroll is a hot ticket.