My Fathers, My Mother and Me (London Film Festival 2013)
Friedrichshof, an Austrian sex commune, ran for 20 years until its dissolution in 1991. The group believed in free love and strived for an alternative to the nuclear family model – children didn’t know the identity of their father, other than he’s in the same room. (Mothers were chosen through a strict selection process – “they can’t be depressed or sexually damaged.”)
The documentary’s director, Paul-Julien Robert, was one of those children. In My Fathers, My Mother and Me (translated from Meine Keine Familie), Robert looks back on the commune and explores how it affected his life. The answer: quite a bit. His quest is ostensibly to find his biological father, while on the way he interrogates his guilt-ridden mother – she sobs, without providing an explanation for her past actions.
Robert largely revisits his childhood through archive footage (the commune’s leader wanted to document their activities so others could follow example) which is fascinatingly, horrifyingly bizarre: the commune’s main goal is provide everyone’s existential and material needs, yet appears to be a number of horny, brainwashed adults. One past resident admits the experience was an extension of puberty.
I feel cruel pointing out that Robert’s new material is vastly overshadowed by the commune’s footage. That’s to be expected, given the extraordinary activities that took place – choreographed sex acts; a child, too distraught to play the harmonica, is punished with a bottle of water. However, Robert provides little context through interviews that aren’t already in the old videos. In the present day footage, even if his mother’s tears are real, she seems awkwardly self-aware of the camera.
The children raised in the commune grew up completely shaken by memories they barely have – the dark spots in their history are berthed from misused idealism, and throws up frightening questions about the notion of identity. Quite simply, they’re not just robbed of a childhood, but the chance to have one. Maybe the topic needs more input from a neutral who can probe further into these uncomfortable areas.
My Fathers, My Mother and Me is part of the London Film Festival’s “Documentary Competition” strand. Screening information can be found here.
93 mins approx