VOD film review: Servants (2021)
Ivan | On 16, May 2021
Director: Ivan Ostrochovský
Cast: Samuel Skyva, Samuel Polakovič, Vlad Ivanov
The relationship between Church and state has always been a complex one. Ivan Ostrochovský’s disquieting drama takes us back to Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s, when the Soviet regime infiltrated the Church, leading to seminary students being asked to act as the eyes for the communist secret police. From the opening scene in which a body is disposed of, it’s a chilling, claustrophobic watch.
The film follows two friends – Juraj (Samuel Skyva) and Michal (Samuel Polakovič) – who enrol at the seminary without being aware of the collusion going on underneath the proverbial cassocks. What ensues is part noir-tinged thriller (the crisp visuals are presented in stark black-and-white) and part intense chamber piece, as writers Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Marek Lescák turn the small world of the seminary into a whispering web of paranoia over state collusion.
There are moments of quiet rebellion, as the students seek to communicate with the Vatican, but the oppressive atmosphere rules over all. Lurking in the wings, the sinister Dr Ivan (Vlad Ivanov) lets his cruel, authoritarian presence seep through the air, even when he’s not on screen. Throughout, Ostrochovský finds haunting camera angles to capture this closed-off world of control in restrictive 4:3 aspect ratio, from overhead shots of a courtyard to a dazzling, unnerving tracking shot down a corridor at the start. You can almost feel the walls closing in.