The most successful Magyar movie of the 21st century, Nimr Antal’s Kontroll is an energetic piece of pulp fiction that, still working with old-fashioned film stock and locations, constructs its allegorical Sin City of Dreadful Night in the depths of the Budapest subway system.
A deadpan introduction proposes the American-born, Hungarian-trained Nimr Antal as a serious young director concerned with timeless issues of good and evil—which is to say, he’s devoted to smartass humor, fond of callous violence, and tickled by the release of bodily fluids. Kontroll begins with a doomed floozy, swilling bubbly from the bottle as she descends into the underground. Food is invariably dribbled, and there are several instances of on-screen puking. The hero, a subway controller named Bulcsú, whose thankless job is spot-checking passengers for valid tickets, wakes up on the station floor with a bloody nose—and continues to collect cuts, bruises, and facial welts throughout the movie.
The controllers operate in crews. Bulcsú belongs to a particularly scrofulous and ineffectual outfit, who amuse themselves with daredevil competitions as they dodge a menacing public. (Meanwhile, as a post
-MTV filmmaker, Antal choreographs the frequent chases to modified metallisti fodder and discovers visual gags such as the Metropolis-like “face” created by two round fans at top of a ventilation shaft.) No less than the sleaze bar in Sin City, the metro is a world of dangerous crazies. Feeble representatives of state authority, the beleaguered controllers regularly confront all manner of prankish punks, idiot tourists, belligerent bimbos, flirtatious homos, undercover cops, and miscellaneous wackos, notably a winsome young woman in a teddy bear suit.
The death toll has been rising underground. Are the jumpers being pushed? A cowled phantom haunts the platforms, although it may be only the tormented Bulcsú who sees this sinister who-he. Is the horror psychological or metaphysical? Anyone familiar with
Carnival of Souls will lock on to the aspiring allegory. Bulcsú never surfaces from the underworld. Neither does the movie—literally or figuratively.