Special thanks to my Hungarian "connection" Zsolt Palvolgyi for assisting me with this beautiful and superbly looking double DVD set. Thank you for being such a great friend!!!
Deep into the underground subway system of Budapest there is a world unlike anything you could imagine. In it there are crooks, prostitutes, overworked street musicians, undercover cops, even a few sane commuters. Unlike outside world however the Budapest subway system shuts down every night at midnight. Then, all of its inhabitants go home. For some home is away from the swill of the metro for other home is right here amidst the empty plastic bottles laying around, the unfinished bits of greasy French fries, even the cold concrete of the nearby ticket station where in a few hours rats will be roaming undisturbed.
For two groups of rivaling ticket controllers however the subway is also a battlefield. Each day they challenge each other, argue, and often exchange fists and broken noses. Their leaders engage in deadly races where two runners have to beat the incoming train running on the railroad tracks and seconds before the train reaches the station they have to avoid death by jumping off to safety. On a top of everything else there is a string of recent suicides that is now plaguing the subway. Rumor is...a hooded man without a face is behind these "suicide attempts".
Written and directed by Hungarian auteur Nimrod Antal Kontroll (2003) is a stylish tale of the underground Budapest subway system that takes its viewers on a very unique and often jaw-dropping tour of a world unlike anything you have seen in recent movies. In an environment that seems like the perfect premise for a George Romero film the protagonists of Kontroll are often the misfits society isn't willing to openly accept. These are people with unfortunate histories and even more unfortunate jobs. As a result their stories as well as appearance are often the subject of derogatory remarks that daily commuters fancy.
For Bulcsu (Sandor Csanyl) and his fellow ticket-controllers however the subway is a way of life. He rarely leaves the concrete tunnels of the subway system as this is where he feels comfortable. Even when a group of rave-goers decides to stage a loud and trendy dance party he roams around without being able to connect with the "outsiders". It seems like Nimrod Antal has decided to create a certain feeling of cultural claustrophobia with his take on the underground system of Budapest and Kontroll delivers an enormously memorable viewing experience that will leave its audiences speechless.
It is difficult to determine whether or not this is truly a social drama gone awry or a twisted black comedy that by the time the final credits roll becomes chillingly realistic. The atmosphere which Nimrod Antal creates is so vivid and demanding concentration from its viewers that by all means any second you turn your head away from the screen will be a missed one ultimately you would want to revisit. Films such as Kontroll are truly an experience that does not come around too often especially considering the fact that this is Nimrod Antal's debut feature.
In addition to a stunningly beautiful camera work and a script that will leave you guessing perhaps the strongest quality of Kontroll comes from a music soundtrack that is as effective and atmospheric as the one I recently witnessed in Fatih Akin's Gegen Die Wand. Infused by NEO's delirious beats the music of Kontroll is reminiscent of such groups as the now notorious Sisters of Mercy and perhaps even the German crossover-industrial gods Ramstein.
I have to admit that Kontroll and Nimrod Antal have truly captured my attention. A stylish, dark, and very atmospheric tale of a world often dismissed by society this is a film that is worthy of multiple viewings. There is clearly a lot of potential in this young Hungarian director and not surprisingly Nimrod Antal was recognized with the Award of the Youth at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.
How Does the DVD Look?
Allow me to begin with the fact that this is one of the classiest looking DVD packages I have seen and trust me when I tell you that I have seen many, many superbly looking DVDs from all around the world. I have a soft spot for many of the beautiful designs which French companies compliment their DVDs with but this simple, yet very elegant, double Hungarian DVD set truly ranks amongst some of the best. Arriving in a solid black case (digipack) with a bloody, sort of twisted big M right in the middle of the case (symbolizing the Metro-party), Kontroll is meant to impress. After you take the outside slip-cover off we are greeted by a black cover with the image of Bulcsu's crew sitting on a beat up bench with bloody faces…smoking! On the top, there is the elegant Cannes logo announcing the enormous success of the film in 2004-Le Prix De La Jeunesse a.k.a Award of the Youth. The rest…a beautiful (Warner R1 style), double folded, digipack.
Let's continue with the visual summary…
In one word-magnificent!! Encoded Region 2-PAL this special Hungarian edition is one of the best produced foreign packages I have seen in quite some time (for the record the Hungarian disc of Sorstalansag looks just as good, even better). Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's this double DVD set is everything one could hope for a serious company would treat a serious film with. Deep and solid colors, excellent degree of contrast, not a tiny smidge of edge enhancement, and just an excellent all-around presentation! To be honest with you discs such as this one make a reviewer's job very, very easy-there is nothing to complain about or moan why such and such company has not obtained the proper transfer. Just pop up the disc and enjoy!!
How Does the DVD Sound?
Unlike the dreaded British version and the horrendous US disc this magnificent Hungarian SE set comes loaded with just about anything as a cinephille and serious DVD collector you can ask for-a thunderous DTS track being just the begining. Presented with Hungarian DTS, 5.1, and 2.0 tracks Kontroll offers everything the R1 version should have had. Excellent ambient mix (just listen to the rave-party scene towards the end, OR the running competition between the "kontrollers"…), excellent rear-speakers activity, even better deep and thunderous bass. I waited to write this review until I could run the Hungarian disc through a high-quality audio set-up (yes, I have some good news) and if you want to see how poor the R1 disc is just make sure you compare these two together. Really, ThinkFilm…how hard could have been for you to copy this marvelous presentation. Even for someone with no knowledge in foreign cinema just looking at this beautiful set…you would be hard-pressed not to utter…what a spectacular presentation (which mind you also equates in better sales numbers). With optional Hungarian, English, German, and French subtitles!!
Before we discuss the extras allow me to point out to you that both disc one and disc two offer the option of setting the menu systems in either English, French, German, or Hungarian. With other words whatever your language preference might be...you are covered! After entering the "metro" we get the following extras (please note that everything in this DVD is English friendly…even the trailers). All extras below appear on disc 2:
The Theatrical version-
Initial trailer- (a great pre-Kontroll trailer that was meant to convince the investors to sponsor the film. Many of the actors in this trailer have been replaced as it appears. So, a piece of history…)
Behind The Scenes:
In this section we get a featurette and a story board with excellent stills. The featurette is great if you wish to follow up the crew in a part of Budapest which no longer exists- the old metro system.
A total of 12 deleted scenes preceded by a short written clarification by the director. Each of those deleted scenes appears English friendly!! In addition you get two extra alternate endings with beautiful ambient music to boot.
Here you get a production stills gallery and a website gallery. For what is worth I spent some time with the Hungarian site and there are plenty of goods to juggle with. The official website advertised in this DVD is:
Cast and Crew: This has to be one of the best extras supplied in this DVD. You get information regarding just about everyone involved with Kontroll, from producers and directors all the way down to some of the supporting cast. Great, extensive biographies and info notes all in English. The biggest surprise...the director of Kontroll was actually born in Los Angeles…who knew!!!
1. A music video by Hungarian underground crooners NEO titled "It's Over Now" which I actually enjoyed very, very much. Just as it was the case with the Danish production NORDKRAFT in Kontroll there are some excellent productions which I hope will make their way to US shores. As far as I am concerned NEO sounds like a mix of Depeche Mode, Front Line Assembly, and the old Sisters of Mercy…all blended in as…well, NEO. The band's official site:
(By visiting this entirely English-friendly site you will be able to see Kontroll's main theme video, as well as the live performance of It's Over Now, all supplied on the DVD herein reviewed. Click on Videos and scroll down!!)
2. Next you get Kontroll's full vocal version video
Short Films by Nimrod Antal:
Of course, the jewel in this magnificent Hungarian set is the inclusion of the directors' two early short films Insurance (1998) and Shooting Clowns (1993) both of which are English friendly and with great picture quality!!
Last but not least we get a curious Phone Game…which as far as I am concerned is meant for true Kontroll aficionados only. If you own this set already, you are one of them…give it a shot!!
Those of you who frequent the International Forum of DVDTALK are probably well aware that I picked two Hungarian DVDs in my Top 10 list (2005) of Foreign Language non-R1 released DVDs (the DVDs being Kontroll and Sorstalansag). And there is a good reason for it…
I am so happy to see this charming little film given such a glorious treatment by a company that surely places Hungary among the rest of Europe…where it rightfully belongs!! I would like to go on record here and say that with such stylish treatment (American companies sure have a thing or two to learn about beautiful designs) Hungary has quickly become my new favorite location to look for excellent films with excellent presentation. What a jewel….DVDTALK Collector's Series.
I am aware that many will be interested in finding out what would be the best way to order this double DVD set. As ordering DVDs from Hungary has proven to be a rather adventurous task, but a well-worthy one, I have contacted a few companies to see what would be the best option for American customers. So far the only (current) option is a small Hungarian outlet which I am told will soon be English-friendly. Until then the only way you will be able to order this DVD is by contacting Peter Kovacs from www.Filmsarok.hu at firstname.lastname@example.org. All orders I am told must be submitted through him and require a Western Union payment until the site begins to accept standard credit cards.