Cinema Signal:

Short History of the Hungarian Cinema

. "Kontroll"
[Editor's note: Due to the unpredictable ways that accents and diacritical marks are rendered in a browser, all such characters are intentionally removed.]

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 demand payment.

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 authority.

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.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Sandor Csanyi as Bulcsu
Withdrawn to the dark underworld of trains

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