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An all-girl Catholic boarding school near Vienna for the wealthy Austrian elite and their children. The school is thriving, but faith is declining and the upper floors are deserted. 

The head of the institution, a young energetic nun, fights with ardor against this decline. Martha, 12, one of the nun’s favorite pupils, is a devoted girl who wishes to expiate the sins of the world. Encouraged by the nun, she is given a penance belt and taken to the abandoned upper floor. 

Statement of the Authors

At first glance, the society that patronizes the Catholic girls’ boarding school in SERVIAM hardly differs from today’s: we see an affluent bourgeois milieu of the sated West, old and new money. Some from the lower class are tolerated, some of the higherranking daughters are anorexic, some of the fathers are unrestrained hedonists. This society is already secular; for most of them, Catholicism serves only as an attribute of elitist distinction.

A second look reveals that the storyline is set in the 1980s for good reason: characters, language and motifs are unmistakably drawn from the author’s personal experience. SERVIAM shows the last analog generation of children who grew up without the omnipresence of portable screens. One major difference from the 1980s is that most Catholic boarding schools are now closed and single-sex education is banned. Not only has the relationship between parents and children continued to change, but after numerous priests were found guilty of sexual abuse, trust in Catholic boarding schools was lost. Consequently, there are very few left. Meanwhile, however, many private Catholic schools are thriving. More than ever, the Catholic Church is there as ornamentation.

Nevertheless, SERVIAM is not a historical film created out of love for the original hairstyles and clothing of the 1980s. The burning question that SERVIAM explores to its very end is timeless: What if someone suddenly lives the doctrine of the meaning of suffering in a radical way? And what if a child is willing to go to her death out of love for Christ?

Embedded in a world that is still familiar to us, a 2000-year-old Christian universe irrupts into SERVIAM – theological and mystical, Gothic and modern, deep and quiet, loud and total. Suddenly we have the apocalyptic imagery of the Revelation of St. John, an immersion into contemplation of the Crucified and the body of Christ; suddenly, stigmata. For the secular majority, this was as relevant in the 1980s as it will be in the 2020s. Since September 11, 2001, however, the topic has become explosive, as we have learned that in our midst there live Muslims for whom devotion to a God is more precious than their own lives.

SERVIAM is a thriller that cannot be ignored, no matter what your beliefs are. SERVIAM is a nun who seeks to follow Christ in an uncompromising radicalism – and in the process becomes ever more guilty. SERVIAM is a good-hearted girl who, isolated among the living, literally wastes away to her death, while cheerfully trusting in God. SERVIAM is us – our doubt, our belief, our fear.

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