Kontroll (Antal, 2003)

January 16, 2009

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The subtle feeling of melancholic anxiety permeates throughout Nimrod Antal’s debut film Kontroll, which takes places entirely in the underground metro system of Hungary. This tone meshes seamlessly with the story (or lack thereof) revolving around a man named Bulcsu (Sandor Csanyi) along with his group of misfits who work as ticket inspectors although not the kind one would ordinarily expect to find in this profession. Instead of polished shoes and fancy uniforms they wear shabby street clothes and are only distinguishable from the general public by their red arm bands indicting their job as “Controlers”, hence the title of the film. They lives lives of despair and their job is totally inconsequential, causing more of a nuisance to travelers rather than maintaining order. They have difficulty enforcing any sort of punishment to passengers unwilling to show their tickets to ride the trains and often find themselves in dangerous predicaments. This raises several questions: Why would the Metro hire these individuals in the first place? What motivations do these unfortunate people have to want to take on such a dangerous job like this anyways? To answer these would take away from one of the few interesting aspects of this film which starts off on a strong note only to drastically lose momentum once Antal establishes the general framework of his subterranean world.

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The quasi post-apocalyptic setting (albeit, this is left open to debate) allows for Antal to create such a vivid and self-contained microcosm where one is not entirely sure what to expect. Danger lurks around every corner and the  interminable dark tunnels seem to extend forever are not a safe place to be. The rival groups of Controllers along with the many strange and malignant passengers does not exactly make the underground subway system the most pleasant form of transportation. A cute young girl dressed in a teddy bear costume would be considered a rather normal passenger in comparison to some of the other weirdos who ride the trains.  There is even a subplot involving a phantom hooded killer who pushes people in front of oncoming trains whose true identity is outlandish to say the least.

Bulcsu lives a very lonely and dreadful existence as an outcast. He never ventures up to the surface and would rather live underground as a wandering vagrant who finds himself aimlessly drifting throughout the tunnels at night. He even sleeps on the platforms or on the waiting benches. This dark and dismal place is his home. The film hints at a troubled past and the implication that he is hiding or running away from a previous life back on the surface but the exact circumstances are never made clear. This is true for much of the film where many instances and subplots remain unresolved, ambiguous or just downright bizarre which is very frustrating. Sometimes less is more but in this case, it comes across as flagrant uncertainty in the director who does not know what he wants to achieve from film. Is it supposed to be a moody existenstial drama or some kind of social commentary? Perhaps a bit of both. Antal shows tremendous talent as a young director who has a great visual sense and there is certainly potential in the future for greatness. However, with this film he is not quite successful and it succumbs to what I like to refer to as “indie film syndrome.” He takes his time to develop such a convincing and unique world only to have the characters fall flat and a story that fails to deliver any sort of satisfying payoff. There is a great film buried underneath the messy sporadic narrative and wonderful soundtrack but I wish Antal had spent more time developing the characters and had been more focused on the story he wanted to tell because this easily could have been one of the more fascinating debuts to come out of the new milenium. 5/10

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