Kontroll Review

With its techno scored opening and talk of a Hollywood remake, Kontroll is a Hungarian film far removed from the cinema of that country’s most famous directors: Béla Tarr and Márta Mészarós. It concerns a band of outsiders who operate as ticket inspectors on the Budapest underground, a neon-lit netherworld populated by prostitutes, their pimps and a serial killer who’s pushing unsuspecting victims to their death.

Though very much a mainstream project, Kontroll finds an unexpected progenitor in Ken Loach’s The Navigators. Both focus on a small group of men at work (though Kontroll’s bunch are a more disparate collection, of varying degrees of intelligence and experience) and the black humour that goes some way to assuage the inherent shittiness of both the job itself and the bureaucracy that operates behind the scenes. Yet whereas Loach’s realism extended beyond the characters and their plight as it were, Kontroll’s director Nimrod Antal places his tangible reality within a landscape that is almost alien. The entire film takes place entirely underground and never once glimpses daylight, producing a dreamlike (or rather waking dreamlike) quality; surely it’s no coincidence that protagonist Sándor Csányi sleeps on the platforms at night, or that one of his crew members in narcoleptic. Moreover, this is very much an enclosed environment with its own subcultures. The rival crews of inspectors have their own slang and conduct a deadly after hours game of chicken called ‘railing’. Plus, of course, there’s the serial killer who brings a hint of giallo to proceedings (though this is never fully developed) as well as a sense of the supernatural. Indeed, on the closing credits he is named only as “shadow”, whilst the attendant ‘making of’ featurette refers to him as “the hooded evil”.

Such an abundance of activity does, however, prove trying on Antal at times. As a first time director he doesn’t quite have the discipline yet to hold everything together. Certainly, he has great success in some areas, most notably the stark look of the film, but not always in others. Indeed, it is difficult to describe Kontroll as a thriller as it lacks the requisite tension and drops into the plot strand from time to time. Likewise, Antal occasionally over-indulges his actors meaning that the black humour (for which he has an obvious talent) is somewhat stifled from a certain broadness that this brings. That said, these do feel like missteps rather than major problems, such is the energy with which Antal tells his tale. He hasn’t produced a great work, but he has made one with promise, and if he doesn’t get poached by Hollywood and sucked into anonymity, his next venture should almost definitely be worth checking out.

The Disc

ICA’s DVD release of Kontroll is one that should be filed under ‘could do better’. The print used for the transfer is fine enough - as crisp and clean as it should be for such a new release - but is rendered non-anamorphically and with burnt-in subtitles (which encroach on the black area, thus preventing zooming). Moreover, the stark look of the wholly neon-lit photography gives the disc much to struggle with, resulting in some occasionally highly visible artefacting.

There isn’t a great deal of improvement with regards to the soundtrack as the original DTS recording has been downgraded to Dolby Stereo. This is acceptable as far as it goes, but you can't help but have the impression that the techno soundtrack plus the various background hums and buzzes would come across much better in their original state.

A little extra effort has been made in providing the special features, with both originating from Hungary. The theatrical trailer is exactly that and as such needs no comment, but the ‘making of’ featurette is quite interesting. However, it must be said that this is not so much for what it reveals about the production (although we do learn that Antal originally wrote the screenplay in English before translating it to his native tongue), but rather for the insights into what makes a typical Hungarian featurette. Surprisingly, there is little difference: the reliance is not on talking heads, but a jovial voice-over that takes us through the various stages of production at a level that is only slightly higher than that of a typical EPK.

As with the main feature, both extras come with non-optional English subtitles.

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Last updated: 15/05/2018 03:22:08

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