Slovakia, Romania, Czech Republic, Ireland


The year is 1980. Michal and Juraj are students at a theological seminary in totalitarian Czechoslovakia. Fearing the dissolution of their school, the tutors are moulding the seminarians into a shape satisfactory to the ruling Communist Party. Each of the young students must decide if he will give into the temptation and choose the easier way of collaborating with the regime, or if he will subject himself to draconian surveillance by the secret police.

Director's Statement

We wanted to tell a story from the totalitarian Communist era – a time when the human character was conquered by creeping manipulation and the promise of a more comfortable life. Many people feigned approval of the regime so they would become invisible and therefore invulnerable. If you were not part of this invisible crowd, you risked conflict with a power that used existential intimidation and paranoia to control and stifle people’s free will. We considered this story to be relevant for today’s society, where people are being scared into fear and uncertainty by the media, political parties, preachers, and intellectuals alike. This coming-of-age story introduces us to a pair of seminarians who are faced with the reality of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Both have to decide whether they will join the crowd of invisibles and thus compromise their ideals, or whether they will expose themselves to a confrontation with the political apparatus. We are all servants of some ideology or other. We are constantly under the influence of more or less visible powers, be they politics or religion, wealth or poverty. Whether or not we realise it, these powers control us, and slowly but surely, they transform our values and attitudes. We decided to set the story in a theological seminary for several reasons, the most important one being that the moral conflict between the two friends/protagonists is much more intense among theologians because ethical behaviour is a major theme in Christianity. The black-and-white form of the film supports the universality and timelessness of the narrative. Czech and Slovak films depicting the end of the Communist era typically feature pastel colours. Similarly, the historicising effect is often achieved through the overuse of contemporary props and conspicuous fashion items. All of this is logically absent from our film because most of the story unfolds between the walls of the seminary and because the students wear cassocks, whose appearance has not changed much over the past few centuries. In the seminary premises, students have struggled with temptation since time immemorial. All throughout, temptation has been changing its form and content. At the time when our story takes place, it has taken the shape of Communist normalisation. The devil always works in familiar ways, irrespective of the nuances of prevailing social and political systems. He relativises and blurs the distinction between good and evil, blinding us, rewarding us, sowing among us seeds of doubt and distrust. We tried to emphasise the emotional condition of the characters with the architecture and the locations. In Servants, the characters’ stiffness evokes spiritual paralysis and fear, which is the narrative engine of the story. The question that the seminarians and the audience are faced with is simple: will I give in to temptation and choose the path of least resistance? The sense of totalitarian control issues not from the use of props but from the peculiar behaviour of the characters.

Director's Biography

The Slovak director Ivan Ostrochovsky was born in 1972 in Zilina. After several documentary shorts and series, Ivan directed his feature documentary debut VELVET TERRORISTS (2013), which premiered at Berlinale 2014, where it won the Tagesspiegel Readers’ Award.

Ivan’s feature debut, KOZA (2015) celebrated its world premiere at Berlinale 2015. It was selected by the festival director to be a nominee for the Best First Feature Award. It was also shortlisted for the 2015 European Film Awards and was the Slovak Oscar Entry for 2016.

Ivan is also the co-writer and producer of CENSOR, the latest project by Peter Kerekes, which was presented in the Works in Progress sections of Karlovy Vary IFF and Odessa IFF, winning awards for best project at both.

2015 KOZA
2015 THE GUARD, tv doc.
2014 PAVOL ŠIMAI, Tv doc. episode
2011 - 2012 CELLULOID COUNTRY, tv doc. series
2010: ILJA, short

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Ivan Ostrochovský

Written by: Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Marek Leščák, Ivan Ostrochovský

Produced by: Ivan Ostrochovský, Albert Malinovský, Katarína Tomková

Cinematography: Juraj Chlpík

Editing: Jan Danhel, Martin Malo, Maroš Šlapeta

Costume Design: Katarína Hollá

Make-Up & Hair: Lukáš Král

Original Score: Miroslav Tóth, Cristian Lolea

Sound: Tobias Potočný

Visual Effects: Dan Cullen

Casting: Pavol Pekarcík

Main Cast: Samuel Skyva (Juraj), Samuel Polakovic (Michal), Vlad Ivanov (Dr. Ivan), Vladimír Strnisko (Dean), Milan Mikulcík (Spiritual)

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 2020