Set exclusively in the grimy Budapest subway, Kontroll (2004) presents a darkly comical world with scarsely any hint of an above-ground. A rock & roll soundtrack is grating but fits, & the ill-lit inhospitable environment almost exudes its bad odors right out of the screen.
With eccentric characters like the big lug who falls asleep at odd moments, the girl in the bear costume, & the psycho who likes to push people under trains, this should've been a mightily intriguing & slightly gross little romp.
Alas Kontroll feels like one scene of padding atop another scene of padding, like long redundant scenes of ticket-checking followed by long redundant scenes of chasing somebody followed by long chats followed by a threatening encounter that leads to nothing in particular. It takes forever to figure out if the film even has a story to tell.
And the biggest flaw is how the only intriguing characters are passing presences on the screen, whereas the too-numerous subway agents or "kontrollers" & their team leader who dominate the film failed to be any more interesting than a gang of ass-scratching dorks sucking slurpies in front of the Seven-Eleven. Not that slurpy-sucking dorks can't be interesting, but they tend not to be at random encounter, & Kontroll never puts much life into these credibly dull men.
For anyone who can manage to relate to butt-scratching dorks, I think it could be quite a successful "allegory of life," with the subway substituting for highschool hallways or pre-war Berlin or Purgatory or just the whole gawdamn world in which everyone lives, gets picked on, hungers for love, loses one's mind, & if not killed by someone eventually dies anyway. To me it just dragged on & on & was one of the boringest films I've suffered through in a long, long time.
For my tastes, Luc Besson's Subway (1985) did it far, far better, truly immersing the viewer in its environment. It, too, is allegorical, but it is much more fantastical in visual style & would almost qualify as a sociological science fiction thriller.
The world of Subway seems really to be an underground society that pits metro tunnel guards against people who are just trying to get by. It's much easier to believe the Budapest kontrollers pitted against a population striving to ride for free are real guys; but it is not as easy to care about these guys as it is to relate to the wackily tow-headed Christopher Lambert adventuring through Paris subways. Plus Kontroll has barely any use for the few women who pass through the story, but Subway has the splendid Isabella Adjani sharing the spotlight.
Lambert as Fred the blackmailer & Adjani as Helena the gangster's moll are pursued by thugs working for Helena's jealous husband. They escape into an underground world & experience a Candide-like odyssey. Although a bit old to pass as a punk rocker, Fred's charisma, hair-do, amorality, & beauty successfully captures a punk-rock sensibility, which does either date the film or make it seem a period-piece. Fred adapts well to his new environs & finds fulfillment rather than disappointment in the trials of love, in meeting & caring about people, & pursuing a kind of success literally as an underground musician.
The population of the underground is not merely homeless drunks sheltering in the only place they can. Some seem to have made a healthy life-choice & their existence is no worse, & perhaps slightly better, than the above-ground world of work & sleep & disappointment.
The underground symbolizes the rot & decay of the greater world, but it at the same time provides opportunities for feelings of success & safety because wit leads to heroic events & happiness rather than mere bare survival, unlike the persistently disappointing or brain-dead running-in-place society above, because the subway is as much about Freedom as it is about Decay.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl