CIFF Review: The Exam


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Political thrillers – they’re always full of intense suspense, seen and unseen plot twists, and triple-double agents. Sometimes, the deception gets too muddied beneath all the loose ends of who’s who. However, when a film with twists and turns pull everything off properly, the audience doesn’t realize how big of a mental maze they just walked through.

How does The Exam pull off this escapade of shenanigans?

The Exam (A vizsga)
Director: Peter Bergendy
Rating: TBD
Country: Hungary

Andras (Zsolt Nagy) is an unseemly man living in an apartment complex by himself… he’s also a part of Hungary’s secret police that was prevalent during the 1950s. Working undercover by employing various “secret agents” to spy on supporters of the opposing party. Unbeknownst to him is that his mentor and superior, Marko (Janos Kulka), is spying on him, ready to deliver “the exam,” which is a secret exam conducted by the secret police to ensure their agents will be able to maintain their cover under extreme duress. However, when a mysterious woman, Eva (Gabriella Hamori), visits Andras for a surprise visit, and a new agent (Peter Sherer) is sent to assist Marko, the tables are turned as to who exactly is conducting the exam.

As I mentioned in the introduction, The Exam follows the formula of past political thrillers with a multitude of twists and turns. However, unlike other political thrillers, outside of the foundation that the characters are involved with the secret police, direct politics are never really discussed. Instead, the focal point is not on the characters’ internal beliefs, but on the actions they perform. It’s easy to get lost in a myriad of facts and terms, but for those like me who were never good with history, The Exam keeps the historical elements to a low.

The cinematography in The Exam matches the film’s overarching theme of deception with its prevalent use of shadows. The levels aren’t as obscuring as noir films that rely on a lot of chiaroscuro, but the shadows are unavoidable. Furthermore, a lot of scenes play out in tight, enclosed places, such as stairways and cramped apartments. The overall feeling of claustrophobia abets the all of the betrayal, after all.

However, the pacing of the film felt a little off. It took a considerable bit of time for the film to progress, and at a paltry 90 minutes, the film feels super short. Granted, they achieved what they had to in that window of time, but a lot of it felt rushed. It could be argued that the rushed tension could be a deliberate effort to enforce the film’s themes, but a little air to let the suspension breathe and grow wouldn’t have hurt.

The Exam is a fine-crafted film that plays out like a big game of cat and mouse as they chase one another through a large hedge maze. I caught myself going, “What? REALLY?” a few times, but in more of a surprised, excited tone rather than a face palm manner. Again, I wish the first act progressed a bit faster, but overall, The Exam was enjoyable.