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Kontroll   C-

THINKFilm / Café Film

Year Released: 2003 (USA: 2005)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Nimród Antal
Writer: Nimród Antal
Cast: Sándor Csányi, Zoltán Mucsi, Csaba Pindroch, Sándor Badár, Zsolt Nagy, Bence Mátyássy, Gyözö Szabó, Eszter Balla.

Review by Jeremiah Kipp

Screw plot, character, dialogue, and drama, and what you're left with is mood. Or, more appropriately for the Hungarian hyper-fest Kontroll, it all boils down to a vibe. And it really depends whether you want to coast along on a trip best labeled "greasy kinetics." Kontroll is an absurdist exercise for the MTV set, following a crew of hangdog ticket controllers sprinting through the Budapest underground subway system, collecting tickets from unsuspecting travelers and picking fights with, oh, whoever happens along: rival ticket collectors, football hooligans, wandering tourists with attitude problems, etc.

Think Run Lola Run, which wasn't that long ago. The filmmakers don't seem to have much of a memory for cinema beyond the post-Tarantino grunge-chic boom. Sitting through Kontroll is like enduring a memory wipe, since it asks you to unplug certain aspects of your mind. The parts that think of characters as representations of humanity and not one-dimensional depictions of smug coolness or plodding stupidity... the parts that look at movies as more than just colored lights flickering through a projector with eye-popping speed, cut-cut-cut and snip-snip-snipped together to a techno beat that feels like a jolt to the solar plexus... the parts that want to do what they're told, and not be engaged. Exterminate all rational thought? Sign on up!

You may think I'm being unfair to Kontroll, which is far from the stupidest or most corrupt film of recent years. The opening sequence with some drunken prostitute staggering down an escalator into an abandoned subway tunnel, where she encounters a serial killer who invisibly pushes her to her doom, has half a dozen well-composed shots. Poorly lit under fluorescent lighting, admittedly -- and tinged with a color scheme the color of snot and rust -- but composed nonetheless. And the subject of these pictures is seen in the harshest, most grotesque light. The prostitute is created for sneers and jeers, then a casual shrug when she's dead. All that is left behind of her is a high-heeled shoe, an image that should arouse pathos but summons up no emotion whatsoever. It's just a nice shot of a shoe on a platform.

From there, we're introduced to Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), the would-be protagonist who basically lives in the underground. He and his wiseguy cohorts are so bored by their jobs (ticket collecting) that they seek solace in inflicting misery on subway riders. Rather than peer into an unforgiving system that treats its employees like losers, Kontroll maximizes the cool factor by staging comedy scenes involving vomit (when one of them sees a dead body), whipped cream (when one of them is sprayed by creamy mace right before a chase scene), and narcolepsy (one of them passes out into a plate of French fries after an angry riff on something-or-other). None of the slapstick or violence means anything, because we don't really know these guys. Strangely enough, we feel like we know Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in 30 seconds or less. Not so these live-action cartoon stick figures. So we don't feel their pain, nor do we feel their love. Bulcsú falls in love with a girl named Szofi (Eszter Balla) who always wears a big, furry bunny suit. Cute for its own sake, and devoid of depth, the romance feels like what it is: a device.

So how about those potent visual images? Kontroll is a motion picture because the pictures have a lot of motion in them. But as Dennis Hopper advised Christian Slater in another pop-culture kinetic-fest, True Romance, "Slow it down, maaaaan!" Why did Run Lola Run succeed where this one failed? It was simpler. It had a character named Lola. And she had a reason for running. Kontroll has no rhyme or reason. It moves fast, pukes up its guts, then starts sprinting again. Those with a taste for such endurance tests can indulge all they want. I'll get off at the next stop.

Review published 03.28.2005.

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