The Budapest subway system, second-oldest in the world, is the setting for Kontroll, the debut feature of writer-director Nimród Antal. While New York City has its transit police force, the Budapest system offers Kontroll, ticket inspectors who operate in teams of four or five and are universally unpopular with the riding public. Those who have already purchased their tickets are annoyed to have to dig them out of pockets and purses; those who have not are even more indignant to be caught cheating and come up with a variety of excuses for their behavior-and sometimes do not even bother to do that.
Complicating the lives of these petty authorities with the palest of pallors is a serial killer whose m.o. is to push victims in front of subway trains just as they are pulling into the station. The Big Boss (György Cserhalmi) orders Kontroll to be on the lookout for the killer, although the contempt he displays when sending his troops out suggests he has no confidence they will catch the perpetrator anytime soon.
Indeed, one of the grungiest of the team leaders, Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), who never leaves the underground, eventually becomes the prime suspect. But as we observe him cheerfully going about his business-though some people find him hopeless-he seems the least likely of candidates. Still in his 20s, Bulcsú is a tall, wry unassuming demigod, popular with his zany crew and capable of racing trains from platform to platform. Bulcsú, slipping into depression, does not realize how remarkable he is.
Just when his life seems to be sliding lower than the deepest tracks, Bulscú encounters the woman of his dreams, Sofie (Eszter Balla), dressed like a teddy bear (for her job entertaining children)-perhaps the frumpiest costume ever worn by a leading lady. They hit it off immediately, although Bulcsú is much too self-effacing to woo her. A chance encounter with her delightful father, Béla (Lajos Kovács), forces him to focus on his profound loneliness and helps persuade him to get on with the business of courting. After all, she is easy to get along with, and, oh yes, he knew from the first moment that he loved her. What more could an iconoclast like Bulscú ask for than a woman with a face like a princess and a body obscured by unflattering threads? But first-in the long tradition of cinema heroes--he must nab the killer to prove his own innocence.
Although Balázs Hujber's gothic and gloomy production design displays the metro darkness at its most Stygian, NEO's passionate rock music and Antal's surprisingly upbeat attitude gives Kontroll the pleasant quality of a contemporary fairy tale. Even though we spend the entire film underground, Hungary has never looked more buoyant.
Critic: Bruce Feld
Jan 25, 2005