Monday, April 19, 2010

Underrated Movie #61: Kontroll

Title: Kontroll
Year: 2003
Director: Nimrod Antal
Writer: Nimrod Antal
Stars: Sandor Csanyi, Zoltan Mucsi, Csaba Pindroch , Sandor Badar, Zsolt Nagy

The Story: A traumatized subway ticket inspector works the trains beneath Budapest, terrified to re-enter the surface world. In the meantime, he befriends his fellow antisocial inspectors, courts a girl in a bear suit, and tries to catch the hooded man who’s been pushing people onto the tracks.

How it Came to be Underrated: This movie impressed Hollywood, who hired Antal away to make movies like the upcoming Predator reboot, but it didn’t break out in America the way it could have. The sort of American who enjoys high-energy action-thrillers like this one doesn’t want to read subtitles.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Where is the great American subway action movie? The location provides so many atmospheric visuals: on the platform, inside the train, on the tracks, in the tunnels… So many opportunities for danger! This one shows us how to do it. (The original Taking of Pelham 123 is great, of course, but it’s really a hostage drama that just happens to take place on a stalled-out train)
  2. Of course, one reason they don’t make many of these is that it’s hard to get permission to film down there. This movie begins with an astonishing testimonial: An apparently real Hungarian bureaucrat addresses us directly, explaining that he has no problem with this movie: “Neither the location nor the events that take place there, nor the characters can be related to the Budapest Public Transit Co.” He assures us of his personal belief that this movie is a metaphorical examination of good and evil that won’t discredit their company or their ticket inspectors.
  3. This movie does a great job showing the psychological toll of living underground. It puts us in the shoes of the hero by making the subway system our whole world. By the end we’re as desperate for fresh air as he is. The fantastic documentary Dark Days, about the homeless tunnel-dwellers who live beneath New York, is the closest American equivalent to this movie.
  4. There is one problem, of course: The inspectors get frustrated trying to explain to people that they need a ticket or pass that covers the proper subway zone, but we American viewers are inevitably going to be on the tourists’ side, because it doesn’t make any damn sense to us either. I get that the leather-jacketed and armband-wearing inspectors are a metaphor for a police state, but the fact that they run their subways on the honor system creates the opposite effect: It seems downright quaint to a New Yorker like myself.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: The slam-bang style and fatalistic world view are reminiscent of another European artsy-action movie that somehow did manage to find a crossover audience: Run Lola Run

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD and available to watch instantly.

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