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Overall Rating
4.65

Awesome65.22%
Worth A Look: 34.78%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 11 user ratings


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Kontroll
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by Robert Flaxman

"A sublime urban spectacle."
5 stars

If it had been made in America, Kontroll would probably have more gratuitous violence. A love scene would have been squeezed in somewhere. And the film’s philosophy would have been either more overt or stripped away entirely. The budget would have been $50 million, and there would have been CGI galore. Thank goodness it was made in Hungary, huh? As it stands, Kontroll is a gorgeous, engrossing film that only makes you wish more Hollywood films looked like this.

Telling the story of the ticket-takers (or “controls”) on the Budapest subway system, Kontroll is actually set entirely within the subway and largely if not entirely shot there as well. The real location proves more atmospheric than any soundstage could; director Nimród Antal – helming his first feature – makes exquisite use of lighting and the inherent bleakness of the urban underground.

The story unfolds almost more as a series of vignettes than anything else. In a couple of sequences, the control crew headed by Bulcsú (our protagonist) must deal with unruly passengers who refuse to present tickets – these scenes, which seem to go on forever, are surely the film’s weak link, but they establish the quality of the job that the main characters have chosen to undertake. More kinetic scenes involve the pursuit of a shaving-cream-toting vandal nicknamed Bootsie and, most intensely, the practice of “railing” (I’d hate to spoil that one, though you might be able to guess).

The great unspoken question of the film is this: why is Bulscú down there? He doesn’t just work in the subway – as we find out in the opening scene, he lives there 24 hours a day, sleeping on an empty platform after the last train stops running. In one scene, we find that Bulscú has left a job – not named, though his former colleague’s words and possessions make either architect or mathematician seem the most likely possibilities – at which he was quite good, and which surely was more profitable than his current job.

Antal’s messages are so subtle you don’t even notice they’re under your skin until they’re already there. Bulscú relishes the loner mentality he can cultivate in the subway, and Antal’s direction – along with the wonderful cinematography by Gyula Pados – heightens that feeling of isolation to the point where it becomes incredibly ominous. The contradiction between the closed-in world of the underground and the wide-open way in which Antal and Pados frame it is a brilliant representation of Bulscú’s mindset – the underground may be a finite network, but to him it represents more freedom than the surface world ever did.

Bulscú’s worldview starts to shift, however, with the introduction of Szofi, a young woman dressed in a bear suit who rides for free because her father is a conductor. Representing the good side of human nature, she is a stark contrast to the random attacks being perpetrated by a faceless killer who pushes people in front of trains. In the end, Bulscú must come face to face with both.

A simple description of Kontroll’s overall meaning, as I attempt to offer here, may make the film seem a bit pretentious, but in fact the morality play is never ponderous or overt. Instead, it lurks, only choosing to reveal itself to those willing to look. Antal leaves plenty of surface for the more casual viewer, however, and it’s an entertaining one. The cast is perfectly chosen, to a man; all are capable of delivering striking facial performances as opposed to just line readings, a crucial element in the translation of a film into another language. Even as we, the English-speaking viewers, do not know how well the lines are being delivered because we are not familiar with the language and its rhythms, we can tell by the looks that things are as they should be.

Visually sumptuous, viscerally entertaining, and far deeper than it had to be to succeed, Kontroll is a magnificent first feature in any language. Talented young foreign directors are often snapped up by the Hollywood machine, usually producing an expected dip in quality. If we can expect more films like this from Antal if he stays in Hungary, we can only hope for the medium’s sake that he stays put.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10645&reviewer=385
originally posted: 02/08/06 17:49:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. For more in the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/26/05 a. kurlovs creative, amusing, "cool", but something's missing 4 stars
7/11/05 Stephen Sullivan Unbelievable and compelling. MUST SEE!!! 5 stars
6/09/05 Mark This movie is every bit as good as the trailer. 5 stars
5/29/05 Once Two thumbs up 5 stars
1/05/05 Graham Unequivocally rocks - watch it now, before it becomes a cult classic! 5 stars
11/29/04 Mesi Simply cool 5 stars
11/08/04 balazs Great movie!! 5 stars
10/21/04 L. Peters Fantastic, want the soundtrack, Edmonton International Film Fest 2004, would recommend!! 5 stars
10/20/04 Erick best action/thriller in years. too hip to play arthouses,too subtitled for major release :( 5 stars
10/19/04 Ricky Peterson 5 stars
9/18/04 DW Boone Rockiing good time in Budapest's subway system 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  01-Apr-2005 (R)
  DVD: 30-Aug-2005

UK
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Australia
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