"The Life of an Agent" is a fascinating sampling of instructional films prepared to train secret police agents in Hungary during the Cold War. Helmer Gabor Zsigmond Papp repeatedly and often amusingly underscores the striking similarities between his source material and pulpy thrillers. By turns campy and chilling, docu could parlay its curiosity value into fest exposure and limited theatrical play.

Grim reality bears an ironic resemblance to formulaic fiction throughout “The Life of an Agent,” a fascinating sampling of instructional films prepared to train secret police agents in Hungary during the Cold War. Without striving too hard for easy laughs, helmer Gabor Zsigmond Papp repeatedly and often amusingly underscores the striking visual similarities between his source material — stark B&W pics culled from Ministry of Interior archives — and pulpy cloak-and-dagger thrillers that were staples of European cinema during 1960s. By turns campy and chilling, docu could parlay its curiosity value into fest exposure and limited theatrical play.

Shorts and features excerpted were produced by uncredited auteurs, with anonymous actors, for viewing only by secret police trainees. Pics offer helpful hints regarding recruitment of informers, surveillance techniques and inconspicuous methods for home raids. A helpful narrator warns that, while searching a suspect’s apartment during the suspect’s absence, “It is important to remain calm.” Intent is deadly serious. But contemporary auds will find it difficult not to giggle while noting many of the security agents look like B-movie bit players, and their surveillance devices resemble props from low-budget 007 spoofs of the era.

The Life of an Agent

Hungary

Production

A Bologna Film production. Produced, directed, written by Gabor Zsigmond Papp.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV), Balazs Doboczy; editor, Szilard Nagy; music, Szabolcs Molnar. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, May 1, 2006. (In Nashville Film Festival--Our Secret History.) Running time: 82 MIN.

With

Narrators: Janos Kulka, Zoltan Ratoti.
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