The Exam by Péter Bergendy - Regained Freedom Film Festival

Date: 15 November
Time: 18:00
Venue:  Liszt Institute Brussels
10 Trerenberg, 1000 Brussels
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Screening in the framework of the 3rd Regained Freedom Film Festival. Click here for the full programme

THE EXAM (A VIZSGA, 2011)

After the 1956 Revolution, the new prime minister (János Kádár) orders that each and every National Security officer’s loyalty be tested according to new and rigorous directives. JUNG (30) is a super-ambitious cultural NS officer living undercover as a private teacher. MARKÓ (50) is Jung’s immediate superior and a father-figure for him. Markó, a war hero and a legend among the officers, is ordered to monitor Jung’s apartment and activities for a day to test his friend’s loyalty to the new regime. A highly deceptive spy game, where no one knows who can be trusted.

The Exam - still photo.

The Exam - still photo.

EVERYONE IS SPYING ON EVERYONE

The Exam, following in the footsteps of the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others and the masterful spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is a taut and smart political thriller that perfectly captures the paranoid logic of the Communist regime. It takes place after the uprising of 1956 which was bloodily repressed by the Soviet army. After the revolution the Soviets appointed a new leader, János Kádár, who was keen on raising the living standards after the destitution of Rákosi Mátyás’ Stalinist regime in the 50s. The living standard indeed increased so Kádár’s regime earned the name „goulash communism” and Hungary was declared the happiest barrack of the socialist block. The idea was that if the people are well fed and they’ve got a minimal personal freedom, they won’t rebel again against the regime. Even the novels and movies of the era, sometimes masterpieces made by visionary directors, were apologetic vindications of the new regime, suggesting that Kádár corrected the mistakes of Rákosi, and a new era has started with his prime ministership.

The Exam deconstructs this myth by focusing on how the new leadership changed the name and face of the dreaded secret police (“ÁVH”), but brought a lot of the faithful cadres over to the new National Security organization. 1957 was a year of retaliation, when a lot of revolutionist were sentenced in show trials or executed, and The Exam shows the year’s dreadful atmosphere by introducing the idea of putting the old officers to a loyalty test to see if they are blindly committed to the new regime too.

By masterfully playing the spy game in which even the spies are spied upon by others spies, The Exam fleshes out the paranoid nature of the regime, where a lot of artists and even ordinary people were recruited to informer on their friends, colleagues and neighbors, and were forced to report any “anti-state activity”. The Exam is a spy thriller, where national security officers try to outsmart other officers, but this genre setting perfectly portrays that betrayal was at the heart of the system, and people couldn’t trust even their closest friends and relatives because they couldn’t be sure who is an informer and who’s not.

IT’S NOT ONLY A HISTORICAL MOVIE

The Exam is a very low-budget movie that was made in one of the hardest years of Hungarian film history, when the old film financing system was shut down, but the new hadn’t emerged yet. But Péter Bergendy directs a historically correct and gripping movie, and turns the limitations of the budget that forced the filmmakers into small interiors into a virtue by creating a suffocating and dense atmosphere.

The Exam played a huge role in the revitalization of the Hungarian filmmaking industry in the 2010s by showing that good genre pictures can be made in a country famous for its art house movie tradition if filmmakers combine the Hollywood genre traditions with exciting Hungarian stories and themes. Screenwriter Norbert Köbli became one of the leading filmmakers of the decade by following The Exam with a string of historical genre movies that also reflected our ethical and personal dilemmas in the present. The Exam is no exception: it shows us a complicated student-mentor dynamic and how the younger generation wants to surpass the older while facing life-altering ethical challenges that can be applied to any decade.

Köbli was interested in digging deep into the dilemmas that come with changing times, and how people adapt to a new system or get broken or sidelined by it. Hungary has gone through a lot of system changes while the people living in the country remained the same and had to adapt to the new guidelines and ideologies which led to harrowing tragedies. The Exam is a remarkable testament to that; a suspenseful thriller that also has a lot to say about the darker corners of Eastern European history.

The Exam - Gabriella Hámori - still photo.

The Exam - Gabriella Hámori - still photo.

The Exam / A vizsga, thriller, drama, HU, Péter Bergendy, 1h29, 2011, OVstEN

Directed by: Péter Bergendy

Writer: Norbert Köbli

Pruducer: István Bodzsár

Cinematography: Zsolt Tóth

Music: Gergely Parádi

Stars: Zsolt Nagy, János Kulka, Péter Scherer, Gabriella Hámori