Fine imports from Europe
'Kontroll' revels in complexity, but 'Look at Me' loses its way.
It's a strong week for international movies, and an unusual one. "Look at Me" hails from France, which sends a steady stream of films to American theaters. Hungarian imports are rare, though, so "Kontroll" is newsworthy as well as excellent.
"Look at Me" is also good, but I would not have selected it for the opening-night slot at the New York Film Festival, where it made its American debut. At least its subject is timely: It examines the ways in which gifted, famous people exert influence.
The main character in this dramatic comedy is Lolita, a young woman (Marilou Berry) who's irked by her father's aloofness, her mother's absence, and her stepmother's glamour. Wanting to carve out her own niche as a singer, she latches on to a music teacher (played by Agnès Jaoui, who also directed the film) with hidden motives. The teacher's interest in Lolita comes less from pedagogical concern than from hopes that Lolita's novelist dad might help her husband's career.
This is a promising premise. But while Jaoui's film is interesting to watch, it dawdles enough to lose its storytelling grip. That said, she remains a tantalizing talent.
"Kontroll," directed by Nimród Antal, takes place in one of the least inviting locations you could imagine: the Budapest subway system, where its characters (played by a zesty ensemble cast) work, travel, and get into trouble.
Some of the time Mr. Antal wants "Kontroll" to be a melodrama, complete with mysterious personalities, dangerous forays into the train tunnels, and a ticket inspector's effort to find the brute who's been pushing innocent people onto the tracks. But just as often, it feels like a comedy with out-of-kilter situations and a subplot about romance.
If it weren't so smartly filmed and acted, this might add up to an over-the-top mess. But watch how inventively Mr. Antal keeps the action moving and you'll see why his picture has won a passel of prizes, bestowed by everyone from the Cannes Film Festival to the Budapest Hungarian Film Critics organization.
• "Look at Me," rated PG-13, has some vulgar language. "Kontroll," rated R, contains violence and sexuality.