Dir: Antal Nimrod. Hungary. 2003. 105 mins.
Displaying anenergetic drive seldom seen in East European cinema, Antal Nimrod'sdebut feature Control has enjoyed that rare feat of satisfying both thebox office (it was Hungary's biggest draw of 2003) and the critics (it has wona clutch of local awards). Successfully combining the dynamic impetuosity of anAmerican action film with the darker broody moods of the Magyar soul,international recognition has now come with a slot in Un Certain Regard atCannes.
If, at the end of the day, it risks remaining confined toart houses and festivals, it will be only because its language and stars arenot sufficiently familiar to international audiences, for there is nothingwrong with the formula on which it is based. After all, Luc Besson'ssimilarly-themed Subway, admittedly flashier but less substantial, wasable to score in a big way throughout Europe. New York's The Film Sales Companytook worldwide sales two days after Control's Croisette inclusion wasannounced.
At first glance a seeming documentary about subway trainticket inspectors-cum-guards, this fast paced, humorous look at Budapest'sunderbelly from an unseemly angle quickly develops into a metaphor aboutmisfits hiding from reality.
The central plotline is taken by twentysomething Bulcsu (Csanyi), whoseeks refuge from his problems at work: the subway. After several encountersand a blossoming love he feels the power to consider starting anew.
His - and the other - stories are relayed episodically,some as brief vignettes, others developed at length and pursued throughout, alldeftly intertwined. Through them US-born director Nimrod deftly paints a richfresco of modern Hungary, appropriately when it is about to join the Europeancommunity with all the associated stresses and changes.
Shooting in the Budapest underground for five hours eachnight, Nimrod treats the warren of platforms, corridors, tunnels, trains andescalators as his sound stage and has a ball, blending documentary snippetswith carefully staged set-ups. If the myriad of plots, some light, otherssombre and threatening, do not at times feel original nor profound, they arealways lively and entertaining.
Similarly the characters other than Bulcsu - ticket dodger Road Runner, a love interestwho wears a Teddy Bear costume, a serial killer who pushes people under trains- are often formulaic and their crises predictable, but are developed enoughto hold interest for their screentime, which given the quick-moving narrativeis not that long.
Throughout Nimrod employs a cheerful, ironic approach,underlined with flashes of love or fear, terror or longing, melancholy anddespair. Editor Istvan Kiraly helps set the frenetic rhythm, while Gyula Pados'amazingly creative lighting and angles only enhance the effect.
The large cast is an Hungarian acting's Who's Who,including seasoned veterans like LajosKovacs, Zoltan Mucsi and Peter Scherer, but rising star Sandor Csanyi holds hisown as the soulful anti-hero drawing on his resources to survive.
Prod co: Cafe Film, Bonfire
Hungarian dist: Budapest Film
Int'l sales: The Film SalesCompany
Prod: Tamas Hutlassa
Scr: Antal Nimrod
Cine: Gyula Pados
Ed: Istvan Kiraly
Prod des: Hujber Balasz
Sound: Robert Juhasz
Main cast: Sandor Csanyi, Sandor Bada, Eszter Balla, GyorgyCserhalmi, Eniko Eszenyi