Kontroll was made in 2003, in Hungary, by Nimród Antal. It is his first film. It was re-released in the United States in April, 2005. An American (Region 1) DVD is now available. 256 notes that a Region 2 DVD came out in 2005 as well.

Everybody hates us. That's just the way it is. - Bulcsú

Tell me a story about trains.

Underneath the City, there is another world. One which winds between the roots and sinews of the world we build; one where the human obsession with authority over people, place and time is played out to the fullest. In the Underground, it all dances to the System's tune: people, trains, escalators, gates, lights, day, night, go, stop - all of it.

The Budapest Metro is the oldest in the world. It is a zoned system; for those of you who have never taken a zoned European-style subway, you purchase a ticket at entry, and (in some) pay a fare based on your trip when you exit. One thing is constant, however - you must retain your ticket or pass, or else you are subject to Kontroll.

There are inspectors in the subways, who rove the system and require passengers to present their tickets or passes in order to prevent what New Yorkers call 'turnstile hopping.' In the Budapest Metro, they are called Kontroll. Being stopped is being 'Kontrolled'.

In this world, they move in 'crews' - groups of five. We follow one in particular - a young man named Bulcsú. He isn't like the others - in the opening scene, we see him waking up to the flicker of massed flourescent lights as they ting on, his arms crossed in his leather jacket, his head against a pillar. He is sleeping on a Metro platform. As the first train of the day thunders into the station, he rises slowly and wearily, not noticing his slow nosebleed.

Thus begins Kontroll.

It's not a comedy, though it has hilarious moments. It's not a thriller, though there are chases, escapes, and confrontations. It's not a romance, despite a man and a woman finding each other in the System. It's not a mystery, despite deaths and killers.

It just is.

We watch Bulcsú and his crew - the Professor, Muki the narcoleptic, Tibi the new guy, and Lecsó - work the System. Rivalry with another crew takes its toll. The sudden rash of 'jumpers' in the system takes its toll. The passengers - the job itself - take a toll; we watch as the crew becomes more and more battered as the film goes on, legacy of scrapes, accidents, or too often assault. There is a tormentor in the system named Bootsie, who ambushes Kontroll with spray cans of shaving cream before running; he is their Unicorn - none of them have ever caught him.

Bulcsú finds a young lady in the System - one dressed in a bear costume, unexplainedly. She dances in and out of his flourescent-flickered existence with a smile and a flick of a dirty, ragged stuffed ear. Although the primary rivalry is between Bulcsú's crew and that of another Kontroller, really, the tension is between the people and the System. We watch it work on each of them, through the film. Some are hiding in it. Some are fighting it. Some just exist in it, caught in its strands. In one excellent montage, we watch the various denizens of Kontroll talking to a company psychiatrist, therapy for witnessing a particularly nasty incident involving one of their own.

Bulcsú keeps seeing an owl in the System, unsure if he's hallucinating.

We watch him wander the system at night, sometimes alone, sometimes not. The dirty steel majesty of silent trains is juxtaposed with the imperfection and mystery of ventilation fans at the end of a tunnel. At one point, he walks slowly until he reaches the literal end of the line, before turning, moving steadily back into his maze world.

The System runs, and endures. The people inside it fight, move, hide, play, wander, live, and die. The continual low-level violence, even if it is manifested between people, is really the friction between the soft flesh of the human and the hard ceramic and metal of the System they move through - pachinko with blood.

Whether the Kontroll crews are part of the system or simply inhabit it is one of the questions you may find yourself asking. They live between the people and the System, it sometimes seems - subject to pressure from both sides. But do they mitigate the sharp edges for the people moving through, or do they amplify them? Are they paying a price in blood for what they do, or for where they are?

The soundtrack of the film is perfect. It's by the Hungarian techno band Neo, and is both atmospheric and relevant. It fades in and out, intermingled with the screeches, moans and wails of steel, unidentified hums and clicks, sudden flickers of light and general inchoate roar of technological purgatory that is the soundscape of the modern subway system. If you do go hunting for it, you may be able to order the CD from Hungary (http://www.numero7.com may have it).1

The story, if there is one, progresses as we would imagine the status board of the subway system does, throughout the day. People move around the System, running towards and away from each other. Sometimes they meet at intersections. There are two plot threads that move, however haphazardly and with however many detours, towards resolution. We never leave the subway system.

The movie ends when it should, how it should.

I recommend it.

Kontroll (2003)

(U.S. Release April 2005)

Director: Nimród Antal
Country: Hungary
Run time: 1:46 (on the Hungarian DVD)
Language: Hungarian (with English subtitles)

Note: if you like this film, you might wish to check out the movie Metro (Subway) by Luc Besson.


1 Warning: the "really kick-ass track" that can be heard during the crew's platform amble and Muki's Bruce Lee imitation (also in the preview trailer during the same scenes) is not on the soundtrack CD (filmzene)! It is the track "Everybody Come On" and is to be found only on Neo's previous album Lo-Tech Man, Hi-Tech World. The soundtrack CD is from Warner-Magneoton Hungary.

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