My Fathers, My Mother and Me
Sunday 13th October, 4pm – BFI Southbank, NFT3
Tuesday 15th October, 12.45pm – Vue West End, Screen 7
Director Paul-Julien Robert revisits his childhood in the notorious Friedrichshof commune near Vienna in this deeply personal and gently shocking documentary.
Raised outside the yoke of the traditional family, with three potential fathers and surrounded by love and art, Robert’s childhood might sound charmed. But beneath the surface of this pre-lapsarian paradise lurk some serious skeletons. Setting out from questions of paternity, Robert interweaves archive footage with painfully frank modern-day interviews into a film that lays accusation upon accusation at the feet of Friedrichshof’s idealistically infantile “parents”.
Chief among the accused is the commune’s self-proclaimed leader, Otto Mühl. Mühl’s Actionist Art movement of the 1970s provided much of the ideological ballast that founded Friedrichshof. But for all the movement’s – and commune’s – espousal of sexual liberty and emotional freedom, the lasting picture painted by My Fathers, My Mother and Me is one of oppression: conformity to a megalomaniacal leader’s dicta, ritual humiliation and both emotional and sexual abuse of children (this latter point causing the commune’s collapse upon Otto Mühl’s 1991 imprisonment for sexual abuse of minors).
The strength of this documentary lies not so much in the difficult subject matter, but the subtle onscreen degradation of Robert’s relationship with his mother Florence. Initially an innocent idealist who joined a social experiment with quirky but not altogether negative consequences, Robert gradually shears this persona from his own mother, leaving behind a reckless and thoroughly culpable shell of a woman. Time and again Florence answers her son’s charges with the feeble assertion that she “didn’t think about that at the time.” How appropriate, then, that the German title of this film is Meine Keine Familie – literally “my nothing family” – reflecting the inactive, irresponsible and immature adults who birthed children into Mühl’s twisted artistic experiment. The blotting out of the nuclear family was precisely what the Friedrichshof commune sought to do. In this respect, if no other, it was successful.
My Fathers, My Mother and Me is a dirge. The music is cheery, the editing assured, but the direction is unwavering. Once the initial levity is dispatched there are few light touches; the overbearing weight of evidence compiled by Robert makes for a very one-sided argument. But although it might not be easy to watch, it is easy to keep watching – compelling, even, like news coverage of terrorism in your home town: an unreal mix of the unbelievable with the familiar.
My Fathers, My Mother and Me is part of the documentary competition at the 57th London Film Festival.
Follow our daily reports from the London Film Festival here.
For further information about the 57th London Film Festival visit here.
Watch the trailer for My Fathers, My Mother and Me here: