Movies to watch: 4. Kontroll

This was a total bull’s-eye shot in the dark.


I didn’t know anything about this movie, or about other Hungarian films for that matter, but writer-director Nimród Antal’s feature debut Kontroll, shot entirely in Budapest’s subway system, kept me spellbound. No healthy sunlight ever falls on the motley crew of underground ticket inspectors who are employed to ensure that nobody steals a free ride. Almost inevitably this system creates a game or sport whereby some passengers try to outrace the controllers.


Racing becomes a multi-faceted symbol in this film: it can mean a dangerous dare where the participants put their lives on the line; it can mean trying to escape from one’s past, like in the case of our protagonist Bulcsú who needs this underworld existence in order to come to terms with his former life. And there is Bootsie, a young man as fast as lightning who likes nothing better than to have a bunch of controllers run after him — a tragically meaningless chase. The Underground itself is highly symbolic, with its collection of weird characters being held in a state of limbo, as it were.


Stark contrasts race each other at breakneck speed: from dark, shadowy tunnels we emerge into bright, glaring fluorescent light; from a deadly serious phantom killer who pushes passengers in front of running trains we switch to a sweet girl who always travels in a bear costume. Add to this a fantastic soundtrack by somebody called Neo, and exceptionally beautiful cinematography, and you have a film that has it all: mystery and romance, humor and drama, fantasy and gritty realism. And all this was made with a budget of eight hundred thousand dollars.

If this first film is anything to go by, the name Nimród Antal is something to watch out for.


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