DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

Charlatan

Director - Agnieszka Holland - 2020

"Greasy movie"
Biopic of Czechoslovakian healer who treated both commoners and prominent politicians offers insight into the life of a very peculiar practitioner - now also available on BFI Player

The latest film by the Polish direct Agnieszka Holland takes place in Czechoslovakia, the country where she studied film in the 1970s. It follows the steps of Jan Mikolášek (Ivan Trojan), a healer who used exclusively herb-based remedies in order to treat his fellow citizens, and even Germans during the occupation. Throughout his lifetime, he saw up to four million patients, including Nazi Party Chancellor Martin Borman and Czechoslovakian Prime Minister Antonín Zápotocký.

Mikolášek learnt his skills from an old female healer during his youth. At first she shunned him, but decided to give the young man a chance upon realising that he was indeed gifted. He bought a large mansion and turned it into a medical institution. He became established and wealthy. The assertive and yet kind physician identified several diseases, or at least the organ affected, simply by observing the patient’s urine. Sediments indicated an infection, flakes suggested sterility, and so on. The Nazis were impressed at his ability. After the War, he remained a much cherished member of the community, credited with saving thousands of lives. He also became a notorious philanthropist, helping children and local charities. On the other hand, Czechoslovakian authorities often questioned his methods and described him as a charlatan. His popularity, however, seemed to shield him from prosecution.

The unorthodox doctor was supported by his loyal assistant František (Jurad Loj), with whom he also maintained a romantic and a sexual relationship. All is well until one day the regime decided to challenge his status. Both Jan and František were accused of killing two government officials by providing them with medication spiked with strychnine. They have been framed, yet the two men seemed to have no idea why. What was indeed very clear is that they needed to fight very hard for their innocence, as the prosecutors had proposed the death penalty. Could the two secret lovers (at a time when homosexuality was criminalised) dodge the accusations and resume their lives as normal? And could Jan’s public notoriety work in his favour, or could it become a handicap?

This is a very conventional historical drama. The topic choice is fascinating, although it’s unclear how much is true and how much is fictionalised. There’s very little literature in English about Mikolášek, so it’s difficult to check the veracity of the events in the movie. The screenplay, penned by Marek Epstein has more holes than Swiss cheese. The narrative zigzags back and forth in time and it’s often difficult to establish what year we are in, where the actions is taking place, and who the real enemies are. The political landscape isn’t clearly contextualised, the interests of the Czechoslovakian government as blurry as some of the urine samples. Weak research? Poor screenwriting? Unsteady direction? Only the real Mikolášek could establish the diagnosis.

Charlatan premiered at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival as part of the Gala Specials section, when this piece was originally written. It’s out on BFI Player in June, 2002. Also available on other platforms.



"Greasy movie"

By Victor Fraga - 27-02-2020

By Victor Fraga - 27-02-2020

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
A small family of four lives in a [Read More...]
Another year has gone by, and DMovies is [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]

Read More

Fashion Reimagined

Becky Hutner
2023

Victor Fraga - 27-01-2023

British designer sets out to create a collection that's sustainable from beginning to end, challenging an industry with little to no regard to environmental and social issues - in cinemas on Friday, March 3rd [Read More...]

Eileen

William Oldroyd
2023

Mariano Garcia - 27-01-2023

Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie star in queer psychological drama with a touch of Todd Haynes's Carol - from Sundance [Read More...]

January

Andrey Paounov
2023

Victor Fraga - 26-01-2023

Two men and a bird are trapped within the confines of a remote rural house, in this highly elliptical, meditative Bulgarian film dotted with folklore references - exquisite winter treat is in cinemas on Friday, January 27th [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *