Revisiting old classics, discovering hidden gems and exploring the contemporary movie scene: every month, Kafkadesk’s CineClub brings you new insights and expert film reviews of the greatest treasures of Central European cinema. This week: Control (Kontroll, 2003), by Antal Nimrod.
The Hungarian film industry went through several crises in its history, delivering products and movies going from bad to worse throughout the 1990s. In 2003, there was however at last a glimmer of hope. Antal Nimrod, a Los Angeles-born Hungarian film director, made a particular maneuver and brought his Hollywood-style skills to Hungary, offering to the domestic audience the humorous and dark psychological thriller Control.
Welcome to the Budapest metro system
Nimrod’s film presents a uniquely Hungarian, fictitious but embarrassingly familiar world about fifty meters below the surface, a place where time has stopped somewhere in the 1980s and the smell of vehicle oil and cheap coffee mixes with the stench of human urine: the Budapest metro.
In this ruthless underground world, a sinister, leather-coated serial killer adds the horror element to the film, terrorizing metro passengers by pushing them under the arriving train to satisfy his appetite for murder and lust for blood. With this simple and efficient storyline, the director brings up the hidden fear of many of commuters that, perhaps, one day his or her life may end on the rail tracks.
In Control, Antal Nimrod goes further and presents the suffering, hopelessness and struggles of individuals. The mysterious dungeon of the Budapest metro has the pure symbolic meaning of Hell where every ticket controller, metro driver and mechanic carries its own personal tragedy, inner fight and secret sin.
The kind-hearted but alcoholic Uncle Bela, for instance, once an honored train driver, accidentally crashed at the Budapest Keleti railway station and was subsequently exiled beneath the surface to repay his debt as a disrespected metro driver.
Fighting your inner demons
Not every character was forced underground, however, and some voluntarily chose the road to perdition.
Bulcsu, the protagonist who plays the humble, trustworthy, and audacious young ticket controller, made his own decision to leave behind his successful life and face his demons in the cruel and labyrinthine world of the subway. He became part of the dark side of the Hungarian public transportation system, and even sleeps on the station floor without any intention of returning to the surface.
Bulcsu’s personal struggle provides for the film’s psychological motif, his nightmares suggest that he has an oppressed and schizophrenic animal side locked inside his mind. Perhaps his reason to move down was to fight his conflicting identity before it got out of control.
Nimrod’s film is not only a thriller with some humorous and exciting moments, but a psychological drama placed in a uniquely Hungarian environment in a way that no one had ever created before.
As the official statement from the former head of the Budapest Transit Company (BKV) suggests in the introduction scene, many aspects of the film are fictions, and the underground system went through significant reconstruction and modernization soon after Control was released in the early 2000s.
Main photo credit: Imdb.com