MOTHER SUPERIOR Review: One Searches For Their Past, The Other Wants to Relive it
Austria, 1975, and Sigrun has taken a job caring for Baroness Heidenreich at Rosenkreuz Manor. Warned beforehand that her patient is tough to work with and has already gone through a handful of other nurses Sigrun is determined to stick it out. It is not that Sigrun needs this job that badly as to bear the brunt of a cruel boss. The Baroness has something that Sigrun wants, answers about her past. However, Sigrun is one of many looking for answers to their own questions.
Mother Superior opens with a title sequence that would make a few filmmakers blush. A voice recording reveals that we are listening to an interrogation. Names of the crew and production appear on stickers and labels on all manner of office paraphernalia. The desktop disorder also includes articles on different philosophies and the Woman’s liberation movement.
We are drawn to a video playing on a small television with Sigrun in the center of the square frame. She is being questioned by the police after Heidenreich’s body has been found. What follows are Sigrun’s accounts of the events leading up to that discovery.
Mother Superior is the feature film debut from Austrian director Marie Alice Wolfszahn who also wrote the film. They have assembled a great support team to achieve their vision. Mother Superior is impeccably shot by her cinematographer Gabriel Krajanek. Standout imagery and live-action iconography come thanks to work in art direction by Manuel Biedermann and Cristina Brandner-Wolfszahnris (who also did the costume design), combined with set direction by Vasilisa Grebenshikova. The aging manor with the flaking walls mirrors the failing health of its primary resident. Heidenreich’s glory days seem to be far behind her.
Sigrun is positive that the clues to her past lie in the abandoned areas of the manor. The Baroness knows something, so in her downtime, Sigrun sneaks around areas that are supposed to be off-limits to her. As Sigrun gets closer to the truth about her past she will also make discoveries about the Baroness. Gradually things get weirder as she comes across evidence of the occult. There are even hostile confrontations in the manor and on the property with Otto, the groundskeeper, and the Baroness’ protective confidant.
These are all parts of a slow crawl toward a crazy finish. Mother Superior plays mainly as a suspenseful horror thriller, building towards its end effect. Clocking in at a very brisk 71 minutes we would understand if some feel that it might have benefited from showing its hand a little earlier or playing the ending a bit longer. The sinister conclusion to the tale of Sigrun and the Baroness is over too quickly in our minds.
It is also worth mentioning that while the title is really a play on words. feminine themes are constant throughout Mother Superior. As mentioned earlier, in the opening title sequence newspaper clippings about the Women’s Liberation Movement can be seen. As Sigrun discovers more about her past she learns more about the exploitation of young women decades earlier. The faceless cops interrogating her deride their female colleague, the coroner after they deliver the results of an autopsy relevant to the case.
Despite some moderate concerns, Mother Superior is a promising debut from Wolfszahn. They seem to appreciate its mysterious build more than its conclusion, appearing to rush through it and on to the big reveal. Still, the film is nicely photographed, well-acted, easy to get through and has enough ‘woah’ moments to keep viewers' interest throughout its brief run time.
(Mother Superior played at this year's Fantaspoa Film Festival in Brazil, through which we screened this movie.)