The devil arrives in an expensive car. He is a reproductive doctor by profession and wants to pick up his daughter. “Non serviam”, he hisses at the nun who greets him in the foyer, thus outing himself as an antagonist of faith. “You are afraid of love,” he says to her. “You are afraid of God,” she returns.
A Catholic boarding school for girls in Austria as a house of horrors, full of stifling loneliness and religious zeal. At the centre is a young nun who sets her radical, pure teachings against the inexorably advancing secularisation of society. She gives her most obedient student a penitential belt made of pointed wire, which she wears around her belly – and promptly the girl proudly presents her “stigmata”, gets a fever from the inflammations and from then on disappears on the fifth floor of the convent. No one else is allowed up here. It is a deserted no-go area with empty beds, where it would become obvious to everyone that religion has long since lost the battle against the world.
Others would have turned this material about fundamentalism and manipulation into a dark, claustrophobic drama. Not so Ruth Mader. She tells the story of her new film Serviam – I Will Serve as a flawless thriller. For her arsenal of fear, she helped herself to the best of the genre. The soundtrack quotes Hitchcock, Kubrick’s The Shining and Carpenter’s Halloween were the inspiration for the long shots of the corridors in the boarding school building. The uncanny lurks around every corner, behind every door. And the Bible is used again and again, as an instrument of intimidation and a reliable source of horror. In five animations, Mader depicts scenes from the Revelation of John about the extinction of the world and its new beginning. Spirituality and suspense enter into a highly inspiring and unsettling collaboration in Serviam – I Will Serve.
Ruth Mader went to the same girls’ school near Vienna where she filmed. Later she studied directing at the Vienna Film Academy and won the prestigious Max Ophüls Prize in 1998 with her short film Gfrasta. This student production about four girls tormenting another girl set the tone and theme for her subsequent works: Films about socially marginalised figures and social upheavals, in which documentary protrudes into fiction – and vice versa.
In Zero Deficit (2001), Mader took up the genre of the propaganda film and focused on marginalised social groups that suffered most under the policies of the centre-right government of the time. In her feature film debut Struggle, which premiered in the “Un Certain Regard” section in Cannes in 2003, she depicts the toxic encounter between a Polish migrant worker and a Viennese real estate agent. And in What is Love (2011), the director asks the big questions in five documentary miniatures about different people and their life models: about happiness and meaning.
With What is Love (2011), an increased stylisation enters Mader’s work. The images are strictly framed, the shots static. The spaces gain in importance and become important elements of the narrative. Ruth Mader builds on this formal approach in her second feature film Life Guidance. In a world of perfected capitalism, an agency – “Life Guidance” – offers society’s high achievers a service for maximum optimisation. The film translates the dystopia of a friendly and transparent dehumanisation into a visual language characterised by matter-of-fact and symmetrical architectures and strong light contrasts – an aesthetic programme that continues seamlessly in Serviam – Ich will dienen. Mader: “A room always has to fulfil very precise functions. Every frame must be right. It must never be wrong.”
The film discussion with Ruth Mader will take place after the screening of Struggle and Gfrasta on 07.10. at Metropolis.
06.10. 20:30 CinemaxX 3
SERVIAM – I WILL SERVE
07.10. 19:15 Metropolis
STRUGGLE / GFRASTA
07.10. 22:00 Metropolis
WHAT IS LOVE
08.10. 19:15 Abaton
SERVIAM – I WILL SERVE