It’s the early 1980s in Czechoslovakia. Two students arrive at the Catholic theological seminary in Bratislava. The Communist Party has set up the organisation Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) to oversee what is happening in the Church. Every clergyman, including both young men, has to make a choice – to either cooperate with the authorities of the totalitarian state, or to refuse to tarnish their faith and conscience.
The director’s chilling message here is that we all serve some ideology or other. Whether we are aware of it or not, various powers – politics, religion, wealth, poverty… – guide us and inevitably transform our values and attitudes. There can be hidden traps: even today, ‘people are being scared into fear and uncertainty by the media, political parties, preachers, and intellectuals alike’. In terms of atmosphere in this excellent black-and-white film, Ostrochovský was motivated by Czech New Wave director Ivan Passer’s Intimate Lighting (1965).
Foreword by the programme curator: All believe in something: the clergy, the Soviet ruling class, even filmmakers, serving at the altar of mise-en-scène.