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Servus Papa, See You in Hell

Imagine growing up in a place where sex is allowed, but love forbidden? Well, there was once a commune in Vienna where just that happened... in the Official Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


From the opening shot to the probing final one, this film holds no prisoners, precisely because it’s about being imprisoned. And much like the harshest prisons, the invisible chains are harsher and more enduring than any physical shackles.

The story centres on 14-year-old Jeanne (Jana McKinnon), who is part of a commune where sex is encouraged as long as it doesn’t lead to affection. Her parents barely visit, preferring to spend their time in the cities, and although they enjoy a cosmopolitan existence, their daughter finds herself swept up in the type of love that nominally waits for people in a metropolitan hideout. And it is in this prison where she finds love, perhaps the one and only commune where it is not only frowned upon, but completely prohibited.

Set in Austria, the film bravely confronts its difficult past, by illustrating by commune founder and father Otto Muehl’s fanaticism and ominous view on humanity, by piecing together a collective who shadowed themselves in the green lands of their country, aching for a new perspective in life. Their cause is a losing one, though the shadows of their influence have cascaded the land, demonstrating a sense of vulnerability in a place of originality and pain. Such is the will of the people that their strength has resolved in a series of debauched hedonism and reverie. And if this is the next stage for the body – abandoning the needs of the heart in favour of the pleasures of the flesh – then it’s one the audience will be happy to miss out on.

Because this commune has decreed that Jeanne must grow up without her parents, as to do so would go against the teachings and principles of the region. It’s a baffling analogy, yet the commune actually existed, as screenwriter Jeanne Tremsal knows only too well. Tremsal brought her memories of the era to the big screen, although the film itself is more of a kaleidoscopic ode to the era as opposed to an out and out biopic.

The film is incredibly well lit, and every cut brings drama, romance, rebellion and pathos to the forefront. It switches from German to French, although the change of tongue does not alter the film’s accessibility. And such is the way it’s filmed, the horror washes over the viewer, bringing them back to the realm of plausibility, exhibiting terror, trial and love. Because, much as it does in real life, love conquers all. Servus Papa, See You In Hell is a triumph of cinematic storytelling. the script was written by Jeanne Tremsel, who grew up in the commune in the 1980s.

Servus Papa, See You in Hell is showing in the Official Selection of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

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