27 October 2012

The Exam / A vizsga (Péter Bergendy, 2011, Hungary)

Most discussions of this movie seem content to dismiss it as a lesser The Lives of Others. This dismissal says more about the rigid thinking, mental laziness, and weak education of people writing about film than anything else. I mean, both films are about Eastern Bloc countries surveilling their citizens, but the similarities really end there. The film begins by telling us that at some point the government has passed a law requiring all intelligence personnel to be tested for loyalty. In a conflict of interest that seems too strange for none of the investigators to take note of, a middle aged investigator, Markó, oversees the test of a young agent, András, who was his protege and who is meant to dine with him and his wife that night. Because it's Christmas Eve. 1957. András's cover is that he gives English lessons from his apartment, but really people just come and rat out all their friends and associates. As the test is about to end satisfactorily a woman shows up at the apartment and everything is suddenly different from what it seems. Some of these plot twists you can see a mile away, and some are more surprising. Some of the actions taken by the characters seem logical and motivated and others seem borderline insane. In any event, the film is engaging and well put together. The cast is both attractive and capable. The film won first prize in the New Directors competition at the Chicago International Film Festival, and of the films from that slate that I saw, I imagine that it probably deserved it.

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