Servants review – stylish iron curtain noir

Trainee priests rebel against the communist infiltration of their seminary in this thriller set in 1980s Czechoslovakia

A car parks beneath an underpass; a body is dumped in the middle of the road. The opening scene of director Ivan Ostrochovský’s stylish political thriller, co-written with Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Marek Lescák, plays like a film noir, with its high-contrast monochrome cinematography and empty, rain-slicked streets. The Czech film-maker’s second feature is set in 1980, three decades into then-Czechoslovakia’s communist rule. Teenage students Juraj (Samuel Skyva) and Michal (Samuel Polakovic) swap their sweater vests for cassocks at a seminary, not yet realising that it has been infiltrated by the regime. The dean (Vladimír Strnisko) and his students are watched closely by Doctor Ivan (a menacing Vlad Ivanov), even though the dean is a member of Pacem in Terris, the real-life association of priests who collaborated with the state.

Some of the young men quietly rebel, producing pamphlets and contacting the Vatican in secret. The chilling image of a heap of confiscated typewriters – 64 of them – piled in the back of a truck is a potent assertion that personal ethics and independent thought pose a genuine threat to authoritarian rule. Ostrochovský’s camera emphasises the constricting architecture of both church and state, with its black and white morality and a claustrophobic central courtyard, frequently portrayed via stiff, judgmental God’s-eye shots.

• On Curzon Home Cinema

Watch a trailer for Servants


Simran Hans

The GuardianTramp

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