Where moving pictures meet Rachmaninoff and the past stands to attention, questioning progress dictated by fear, comes Ivan Ostrochovsky’s Servants. Paris-based distributor Loco Films has signed the Slovakian filmmaker’s period piece, which is set in Czechoslovakia in 1980. The film demonstrates the changing relationship of two friends who begin their studies together at a Roman Catholic seminary. Soon after their arrival at the college, they discover that it is controlled by Pacem im Terris, an organisation of clergymen who are collaborating with the communist regime from which the friends had initially sought escape. This infiltration of the church presents two contradicting paths to the friends, whose friendship breaks down as they struggle to decide whether to collaborate with or resist the authorities.
The growth of the young men, the testing of their friendship, and the pressure of the authoritarian regime, however, extend beyond the white walls of the seminary and the bodies cloaked in black moving within that space. Servants explores universal themes of choice, compromise, and the ways in which political power manifests as control of one’s will. Juxtaposed with control of bodies is the resistance to control – a question of strength and weakness, values and compromises that the film explores beautifully in the ominous black-and-white layout of a place itself devoid of colour. The cold outside the stone walls is matched by the cold and silent gazes of the people inside – a beautiful analogy that is highlighted by the steam rising from the untouched food and the cold air visibly escaping lips parted in fear.
Rather than a detailed exploration of facts, Ostrochovský demonstrates a concern with the way in which the visual experience can affect viewers emotionally. In this manner, it is more akin to a series of profound images that speak privately to the viewer’s own emotional experience. Servants speaks about the normality of fear and our interactions with it while also holding onto the values and beliefs that can help us to overcome or succumb to that fear.
Servants (Služobníci) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
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