Out of Kontrol

Had a very pleasant afternoon in the Edinburgh Filmhouse this afternoon, lazing in the café bar then in to catch a movie I wanted to see at the Film Festival but missed, the Hungarian flick Kontrol. It’s a shoestring budget independent which has done very well across Europe. Set entirely in the Budapest metro system, the film never takes us to the surface, dwelling completely in the underground system (yes, this is symbolic, pay attention now!).

Most folk would probably consider a film following a bunch of disparate low-life weirdoes who travel the metro acting as ticket inspectors (lower even than traffic wardens here) isn’t exactly going to be engrossing. They would be wrong. The film has a down-at-heels, grim, blue collar look reminiscent of 70s New York cop films (the daily briefing for all the teams reminds one of the start of Hill Street Blues), complete with a range of bizarre – often grotesque like Sergio Leone’s extras in his Spaghetti Westerns – characters, all of whom have psychological problems which have driven them to this reviled job deep under the city (the scene where all of the inspectors – Kontrollers – have to report for their psychiatric session is hilarious, disturbing and moves with a clever rhythm).

The central character – who bears a strong resemblance to the actor who plays Dwayne Benzie in Spaced – it emerges has once had some sort of important job which he has left. A string of supposed suicides may actually be murders, with the victims being pushed rather than jumping in front of underground trains. Then again they may not. The killer – if there is one – may be a real serial killer lurking in the subterranean world of dark tunnels and fluorescent-lit platforms, or they could be a preternatural being. Repeated meetings with a rather pretty-faced girl in a teddy bear suit (who bizarrely reminded me very much of one of my friends, Hester – her face, not the teddy bear suit) offer both even more surreal imagery and conversely also possible salvation. And wonderfully the audience is treated with intelligence – little or no explanation is given. Why is she in a teddy bear suit all the time? Why is she always in the metro? What was his job before and why is he always down there now, even after work? Is the killer real? Imaginary? Or is it just a rash of suicides?

Flavour this with an extremely cool look (more impressive since this is a debut feature), dark humour, irresistibly odd characters and a wonderfully subtle but strong undercurrent of Kafka (one of my favourite writers) and you have a fabulous little gem of a movie, which people who loved Dark City, Subway and the like will love.