The grimy subways of Hungary are the setting for Kontroll, the directorial debut from writer Nimrod Antal. Kontroll is a bit light on story, but Antal, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jim Adler (Out of Order) pile on the metaphor in a slick fashion. It seemed to work, as Antal won the Award of Youth at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, but as a whole, the film is a bit too much style and not enough substance. Kontroll focuses on the subway ticket takers, a motley group of people, mostly men, who gather together in small teams that sometimes act like gangs. Bulscu (Sandor Csanyi, Frau Plastic Chicken Show, This I Wish and Nothing More) is the protagonist, a tall, handsome man struggling with inner demons.

Unbeknownst to his friends, Bulscu spends his nights in the subway. He does not go outside, and seems to be searching for some deeper meaning to his life. The group he leads seems to consist of the leftovers; outcasts from other rival 'gangs.' A narcoleptic, an old man, and an incompetent rookie work their way through the nights, with their red armbands the only symbol of their authority. A rival team gets new uniforms, black leather outfits that hint of fascism, and taunt Bulscu and his friends. To up the metaphor of searching or chasing for something, Bulscu and some of the others engage in dangerous races on the subway tracks. They hop onto the tracks after the second to last train leaves, running in the dark over tracks, cables, and debris to try to reach the next station before the next train arrives. Losing can mean death.

One sometimes gets the feeling that Antal is trying a bit too hard to exact deeper meanings out of his characters and their situations. It's a monotonous existence punctuated by shouting bosses, defiant customers, and stranger things like a woman dressed as a bear (Eszter Balla, Our Love, Moscow Square). The management is also on the lookout for a serial killer who is pushing customers out in front of the trains. Despite their best efforts, he remains elusive. Bulscu's search for the killer resembles the search for the missing element in his life. In fact, there is a very Fight Club-esque feel to many parts of the film.

Kontroll works best on a visual level. Antal uses dreary, washed out colors to complement the dull existence underground. Most of the people there seem muted, as if stifled by the oppressive air of the subway system. The camerawork is smooth, especially during a chase sequence. And small flourishes of comedy, typically in the form of annoyed customers, help bring a small amount of levity to the entire affair.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Hungarian with English subtitles, Rated R for language, some violence, and brief sexuality.

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