Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nimród Antal's Kontroll (2003)

Bulcsú lives underground and avoids the world topside. The folks in the underground are often mean and hassle him when he's just trying to do his job. His cohorts are a newbie, a narcoleptic, a combative old man, and a regular chum. Bulcsú does have competitors in the underground and he plays a dangerous game, called "railing" with them. Competition, however, from the world topside is what drove him into the underground. There's also a killer on the loose, and Bulcsú meets a cute teddy bear, one day, who changes his life completely.

Nimród Antal's Kontroll (2003) begins with a prologue by someone looking official and addressing the viewer that the film he/she is about to witness is not a realistic depiction of subway workers (the "Control") in Budapest, Hungary but rather a symbolic depiction of life. Antal, however, gives a very realistic depiction of his story of "control," or rather the illusion of it, set completely in the underground subway lines of Budapest. Kontroll is wonderfully absurd while also being quite relevant and beautiful-looking as it is thematically rich.Beyond the prologue and at first blush, Kontroll begins looking like a giallo, as a tipsy young woman is making the long descent into the subway via escalator. Standing at the platform in her red high heels, a figure steps out of the shadows and pushes the woman right out of those red high heels and onto to the tracks, as the train rattles and rushes by. The lights of the platform illuminate, after a period of darkness, to reveal Bulcsú, sleeping alone on the cold, bare floor. An old man tells Bulcsú that his nose is bleeding, and Bulcsú hurriedly chases him down. Bulcsú pulls his armband from his pocket, revealing that he is a member of the "control," and asks to see the old man's ticket or pass. Apparently, very few people actually purchase or possess one.In an abrupt shift in tone, Kontroll becomes comical. An old man smoking a cigarette is commenting on his table partner's breakfast cuisine: why are you having french fries for breakfast? You know all of that grease will clog your arteries. Then...if you're going to have french fries why are you drowning them in all that ketchup? The young man eating cannot put a fry into his mouth without a comment from the old man and becomes angry that he cannot eat in peace. Stress induces a narcoleptic fit and he passes out face first into his ketchup-soaked plate. Leave him be, says the old man to the crew's newbie, he'll be fine. Bulcsú meets up with his crew, and the viewer is treated to a series of comedic sequences involving mishaps with ticketless passengers. The newbie attempts to coerce tickets from foreign tourists; a transvestite attempts to seduce one ticket-checker; and the old man gets into a semantic argument with someone as cantankerous as him. Bulcsú is calm and collected and doesn't let the absurd people and excuses faze him; that is however, until a beautiful absurdity sitting on the train, makes him speechless.Not all is happy or lite in Kontroll. One worker, who remained sitting unusually silent and sad after the Control crew morning meeting, is lent a very sympathetic ear by Bulcsú. The worker refused to to talk about what's going on inside of him but later he explains to Bulcsú very powerfully the emotions within him. Accompanying his powerful emotions, the worker is bleeding profusely from his nose, the wound given to him by a rude passenger's punch, who is now in the worker's clutches with a knife at his throat. I was just doing my job, the worker says, and just asked him for his ticket. In another, which is a very succinct and compact rendering of Bulcsú's topside life, Bulcsú meets an old colleague on the platform and quickly hides his armband. His colleague asks him where's he been and what has he been up to. Bulcsú gives evasive answers. Eventually, his friend with a surprising amount of candor says simply that he was the best and most creative in his business and the topside misses him. Bulcsú replies that having to live everyday trying to be the best brought him down and he couldn't keep that pace up. Sound familiar?With Kontroll, Nimród Antal shows himself as a very creative and talented filmmaker. Antal would subsequently make his U.S. debut with Vacancy (2007), a horror/thriller well-above the dreck in the genre, highlighted by a very sensitive portrayal of a couple in the waning days in their relationship (Kate Beckinsdale and Luke Wilson) who are forced to unite with the horrific circumstances. Like Vacancy, Kontroll has some fantastic visual sequences, like the "railing" game which Bulcsú plays, a surreal sequence from one of Bulcsú's platform dreams, Bulcsú's first encounter with the killer, and the opening sequence with the tipsy young woman, for example. The authentic location looks as real as real can get but the situations within are totally from a creative mind. The human touches have a resonance when they're in the foreground of an absurdist background. I cannot find fault anywhere in this production, and all of the performances are terrific.Finally, Kontroll is about control. The idea that he has a pre-determined fate or a free will, Bulcsú abandons. He knows that it is better to just to surrender to his life as it is, in front of him. See it.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review Hans. Strangely, I wrote a blog very similar to this movie. It was called "My life blows so I live underground but strange shit keeps happening to me and I think someone is going to kill me." The blog was completely autobiographical, which makes it large and in charge.