Hungarian writer-director Nimrod Antal, a former resident of Los Angeles,
explores the underbelly of society in the dank passages and platforms of
Budapest's underground train system. His subterranean vision of life here
becomes a hellish retreat for the psychologically burdened. Indeed, train
agent Bulcsu (Sandor Csanyi) finds the means here to withdraw from the
pressures of a better but more demanding profession. By choice, he remains
down by the tunnels 24/7, sleeping on the station floor at night and throwing
his weight of authority around as a ticket agent by day. It's work, amidst
the taunts and games of cheaters, scoundrels, wasters and a murderer.
It's easy to see at the outset that Bulcsu (pronounced "bull-chew") is a
charismatic leader among the inspection teams dispersed throughout the train
system. The other men of his team look to him as the one to make decisions
and handle the occasional out-of-control (kontroll?) situations. Dealing
with the miscreants and serial freeloaders isn't a walk in the park. These
public travelers are brazenly contemptuous of an establishment that dares to
Among these, in a class of his own, is the dreaded Bootsie, aka, Gyalogkakukk
(Bence Matyasi) a demon habitu‚ of the tracks and trains -- a guy who never
pays, who taunts any unsuspecting train team member with tricks and malice.
He's also one fast dude who can outrun and outfox his most ardent pursuer.
Until he doesn't.
Other devious scofflaws challenge and disrespect the inspectors in a variety
of ways. A jolly pimp offers one of his girls in lieu of a free ride for his
entire retinue. In another, a woman threatens to accuse the ticket guy of
pinching her boobs and get him thrown in jail as a sex offender. In a third,
a woman conjures up a blinding substance with which to make her getaway. The
problem for these checkers is that they can issue puny fines but have no real
Rivalries develop. Management-favorite and chief bully Gonzo (Balazs Lazar)
confronts Bulcsu and challenges him to a bit if "railing." This turns out to
be a station to station foot race on the tracks between trains. If you're
not fast enough, you get squashed.
But this is not just a dark wormhole existence. For Bulcsu, there's a ray of
light... romance. Despite the clinical discomfort keeping him below ground,
he's not immune to Sofie (Eszter Balla), a fine looking lady in a pink bunny
costume who never has a ticket. Instead of getting nasty about Bulcsu's
asking her for one, she appreciates the sensitivity of his, "Excuse me,"
followed by sudden tongue paralysis as though he's immobilized by her beauty.
Love blooms in the torpid air, and leads to discoveries, including the very
good reason she doesn't pay to ride the rails.
But the image of a dark underworld continues as a mystery figure in an
exaggerated hood to hide his identity, like something out of Dant‚,
repeatedly appears in the crowd, picks a hapless victim and, moving as
swiftly as Norman Bates in "Psycho," dispatches the person to the rails as
the train comes roaring in. The Transport officials who have been thinking
they had a streak of "jumpers" are beginning to reconsider the freak rash of
death as something else. Because of a minor outburst, they start looking at
Bulczu as a suspect.
The episodic portrait of life underground covers an extended distance in a
noirish atmosphere that doesn't preclude comedic shtick and miles of irony.
While many of his secondary characters are stereotypical and unengaging, and
the official disclaimer in an awkward prologue is laughably bizarre, despite
a ride with a certain meandering quality, director Antal effectively
heightens interest with a progressive uncovering of secrets and sore points
along the way to make it an effectively structured drama. His Bulcsu becomes
a figure of sympathy and fascination, empowered even as he is unexplainably
withdrawn. A hot progressive rock soundtrack by Neo adds a sense of movement
all its own.
The movie impressed the Hungarian film industry enough for them to choose it
as their official entry to the Motion Picture Academy's Best Foreign Language
Film. It didn't win, but Antal's debut tour of symbolism and dark reality is
a ticket that takes you someplace.
~~ Jules Brenner