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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Kontroll (review)

Hungarian filmmaker Nimród Antal takes us into a literal underworld with his funny, frightening, fantastical debut feature… and it’s the kind of self-assured, totally enrapturing film that makes you realize how few directors achieve such a necessary confidence in their own hocus pocus. The serpentine tunnels and shadowy corners and deep-bore escalators of the Budapest subway system are Antal’s setting for a reverie on disillusion and loneliness, where Bulcsú (mysterious and handsome Sándor Csányi, who could have a lucrative career rehabilitating the Hollywood action hero if he so desired) roams the trains, leading his gang of inspectors checking passengers’ tickets. And they are a gang, swaggering through the system, tormenting passengers who give them a hard time, rumbling with “rival” inspectors, and playing Russian roulette-style games in which they pit themselves against the trains, racing through narrow tunnels from which there’s no escape till the next station platform. Antal, who grew up in Los Angeles before moving to Budapest at 17, melds classic Hollywood form with a Euro arthouse sensibility: his Bulcsú, who never goes aboveground, is a familiar movie loner on a startlingly original journey, where reminders of the world outside (like a former work colleague who hints at a far more professional past for Bulcsú) disconcert him, and the darkness and dankness of this purgatory comfort him. Like his hero, Antal makes a virtue of the obstacles he faces — he could only film in the middle of the night, when the system was closed, from which he wrung appropriately weary performances from his exhausted cast, and an urgency out of the need for speedy shooting — but like Bulcsú, too, extracts a sense of hope and something like pride from the experience.


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MPAA: rated R for language, some violence and brief sexuality

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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