hungarian language film

Made in: Hungary
Language: Hungarian
Directed by: Nimród Antal
Starring: Sándor Csányi, Eszter Balla, Lajos Kovács, Bence Mátyássy, Gyösö Szabó, Péter Scherer, György Cserhalmi
Year: 2003

Synopsis: Taking place entirely underground in the Budapest subway system, the story revolves around Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), a borderline burnout who works for the Budapest Metro Transit Authority.

He's in charge of a motley crew of four other workers whose chief responsibilities are inspecting tickets, and making sure that the passengers have paid their fare and are riding the correct routes. Dressed in civilian clothes, Bulcsú and his crew are supposed to blend in with the general populace and be on the lookout for vandals and other troublemakers.

Normally Bulcsú spends the entire day underground, and has to contend with unruly passengers, strange people, rival transit workers who are complete jerks, and an elusive vandal named Bootsie (Bence Mátyássy).

But with a sudden increase in suicides, Bulcsú and his fellow workers are ordered to keep extra vigilant of passengers who look as though they might jump in front of approaching trains.

Or are the suspected suicides really murders?

Although he finds solace with a kind train operator named Béla (Lajos Kovács), and his eccentric daughter Szofi (Eszter Balla), Bulcsú slowly withdraws, and spends more and more of his time in the subway tunnels and stations. Will the dead-end job finally cause him to snap?

Note: There's a disclaimer in the beginning of the film confirming that the elements of the film are entirely fictitious, and that Budapest's transit authority does not actually employ undercover ticket inspectors who will beat you senseless if they're having a bad day.

The Good: The critically acclaimed and award-winning Kontroll has some pretty interesting story elements. The idea of undercover ticket inspectors makes for some good characters, and drives the psychological element of the story. Many of the visuals are amazing, and director Nimród Antal does a fantastic job making the labyrinthine subway tunnels look otherworldly and surreal.

The overall premise is very effective, and makes this a powerful character study. My biggest praise goes to the imaginative nature of the story, and how Antal takes an every-day part of life (riding the subway) and turns it into a harrowing world fraught with danger and other neat stuff.

The Bad: In the beginning, Kontroll builds itself up to be a movie about serial killers and the underdogs who have to stop them. Keeping in line with a straight-up adventure/suspense storyline would have made this hungarian language film really entertaining.

However, focusing on Sándor Csányi and his character's psychological development causes the plot to meander. Although everything more-or-less ties together in the end, the decision to concentrate more on character slowed it down and unfortunately decreased my interest level.

After a while, the idea of undercover ticket inspectors, although interesting, didn't seem entirely believable either. Bulcsú and his workers don't seem to have any method of backup or law enforcement power once they do come across violent or unstable passengers who don't have tickets.

I'm not sure about you, but most metro systems I've used, both in the US and other countries, won't even let you enter (or exit) the train platform unless you've already bought a valid ticket or pass in the first place.

Who would like this movie: Kontroll is for you if you're already a fan of foreign films. You'll also like it if you appreciate independent, low-budget movies that make ingenious use of natural surroundings. Although visually stunning and psychologically powerful, there are enough minor plot holes to keep this good movie from being great.

(2 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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