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The Bottom Shelf #143

01.17.2008

Two different types of control. I'm getting more direct than a hooker with a crack habit when it comes to my themes these days.

KONTROLL (2003)
Directed by: Nimród Antal
Starring: Sándor Csányi, Lajos Kovács

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This is one of those "Wait for it..." kind of movies. You know the kind. The ones where you're sitting uneasily in your seat, nervously checking over your shoulder to see if someone is planning to sneak up behind you. Even if you're all alone in the house. KONTROLL has the eerie quality which lurks over you, bathing you in this sense that the other shoe isn't just going to drop, it's going to get thrown at your head. I wish there was a way to get directors to learn this quality, but I firmly believe that it isn't something that you can learn at film school. It takes just the right directorial hand, just the right crew, just the right actors and just the right setting to pull it off. KONTROLL has all of that. Director Antal tried to pull it off again more recently with the middling VACANCY and I was itching with that sense of dread but not pulling my hair out whilst screaming for calamine lotion like I was with this film. Not the right combination with the American film, but bursting with all the right moves with this one.

Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that it's Hungarian. Centered in the underground Metro of Budapest where groups of brave souls referred to as the "Kontroll," the film devotes a good chunk of time to their exploits in getting the passengers to produce the correct paperwork, whether that be ID or purchased tickets. Often they run into people who choose to not carry the proper paperwork and need to beat them down for it. Or get beaten down in the process, leading to an emotional state rivaled only by the other, more well known controllers, those who govern the air traffic. The men and women working the different Metro lines suffer from various issues, mostly of the psychological variety. When a stranger starts pushing people onto the tracks in front of oncoming trains, the tension level mounts even further.

There is some stuff in this movie which is unparalleled to anything that could be set up and attempted under different circumstances. The film starts off with an official reading of a statement by a man working in the real underground Metro in Hungary, stating that the real Kontrollers act nothing like what is portrayed in the movie, setting you up to believe that something horrendous is going to occur. It is followed by oft times funny scenes of the men getting into various shenanigans, in the course of trying to do the job that everyone hates them for. Filtering in between the floating particles that give the movie an edgy, grainy feel are good chunks of fantasy, given more weight by the punchy soundtrack that underscores every eye roll and sideways glance. I wish I could say that I understood what was going on at the end a little more, but part of me wants to respect that either I shouldn't or I couldn't even if I tried. I'm not Dorothy. I don't always have that pressing need to find out what's behind the curtain. Sometimes I'm thoroughly entertained by the strange representation.

Favorite Scene:

When Muki is questioning the commuter with the stutter and flies off into a rage, sending himself into a narcoleptic attack.

Favorite Line:

"Can't make waves if you don't have any water."

Trivia Tidbit:

On two occasions there is a robotic voice in the background saying (in English), "The next stop is: Concourse A... the color coded maps and signs in this vehicle match the station colors... please move to the center of the vehicle and away from the doors." The voice is that which was use until 1994 in the "people mover" underground trains at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport.

See if you liked:

TRAINSPOTTING, LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, FIGHT CLUB

CODE 46 (2003)
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton

-- click here to buy this DVD at Amazon.com --
-- click here to rent this movie at NetFlix.com --

When I first saw the cover art for this DVD whilst wandering around the local video store, I thought they'd gotten it wrong. Maybe it's just me, but Robbins looks a helluva lot like John C. Reilly in that picture. I kept flipping the box over and over, looking for his name somewhere. But it's not there. That's really Robbins, older, more furrowed and probably not any wiser. But he's a helluva lot more subdued in this flick than he has been in the movies that he's made up until now. Which was a surprise. Because this movie is about his character's passive-aggressive tendencies and his inability to be less selfish.That, and Morton's oddly shaped and yet captivating angelic face. You're drawn in instantly by their polar opposite visages.

The film follows an indeterminate time in the future when people have been utilizing In-vitro Fertilization (IVF) and DNA cloning capabilities beyond what science was intending. It gets to a point that people run a very high risk of being genetically matched to others out in society, even unbeknownst to them. A law, dubbed Code 46, is instituted outlawing the couplings of these genetically similar people, forbidding them to marry or have children and taking it to the extent of stepping in and enforcing abortions and memory erasure of those who become pregnant by accident. For those who violate Code 46 voluntarily, they are exiled from the "cover" of society. You cannot travel, hold a job or property when you are exiled. Robbins' character comes to investigate fraudulent cover being illegally sold and falls in love with the woman working at the facility, even though he is aware that she is the culprit in the crime.

It isn't so much what you know is going to happen (which all of it does) as it is the truth about those who get punished for a takes-two-to-tango crime. The movie also is subdued in its denouncement of getting involved in peoples' personal lives, even though you run the risk of eventually coming to a point in time where the scientific advancements are bond to double back on you and need governmental overriding to fix. The conundrum that arises when it comes to who is "at fault" and who is exempt is amazingly bleak, thinking that no matter the advances that we make, we're always going to have the archaic standards that apparently are in our genetics. I like that the movie is plainly filmed, adding to the bleakness of the situation, that the dialog is spare and focuses more on the fact that in time the major languages (a great deal of Spanish slang is used, even by those in Shanghi) will meld together to a point where everyone speaks the same basic dialect. But I am haunted by the possible outcome that doesn't seem to far off in the movie's assumption. That, and the fact that I STILL think Robbins looks like Reily on the cover.

Favorite Scene:

Robbins' character growing a fraction of a conscience and giving the cover to the man who'd offered him a haircut earlier in the movie.

Favorite Line:

"I consider Anne of Green Gables to be an erotic classic."

Trivia Tidbit:

That's the real Mick Jones from The Clash singing - you guessed it! - "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" in the karaoke bar.

See if you liked:

SOLARIS, GATTACA, THE FOUNTAIN

You know, I never would have pictured Samantha Morton as being the Brazilian wax kinda girl. I really did figure she had a bush. (And yeah, yeah... I'm aware of the body double trend.)

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