Charlatan is the latest film from revered Polish Oscar and Bafta-nominated film director Agnieszka Holland, which made the shortlist for Best International Feature at this year’s Academy Awards. Following her critically acclaimed 2019 release, Mr Jones, Holland returns to 1930s-era Eastern Europe, this time to the former Czechoslovakia for a semi-fictionalised look at the troubled life of faith healer and cult figure Jan Mikolášek.
Through a non-linear narrative comprised of dreamlike flashbacks and fragments of memories, we discover Mikolášek’s journey from childhood into the world of diagnosing and healing the ailments of those in his community, as well as celebrities of the Nazi and Communist eras, from the unlikely source of urine samples.
Holland brings her expert vision and skill as a director precisely realising 1930s sets and costumes, turning the recurring image of bottled urine into a surprisingly beautiful depiction of golden liquid while filling in the gaps in legend that surrounds Mikolášek. And although there’s a strong case put forward for him being anything but a charlatan in his abilities, his moral fortitude is made far less clear, and a dark, sadistic side is revealed, alongside a love and passion for his assistant, Frantisek Palko.
We had the privilege of speaking to Holland about what prompted her to make a biopic of the infamous Czech faith healer, the film’s ambivalence about its protagonist and the importance of telling LGBTQ+ stories of the past. She also spoke about the relative merits of working with film versus TV series such as The Wire and House of Cards, her dedication to activism when not creating for the big and small screen and her reflections on Chloe Zhao’s Oscar win for Nomadland.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 13th May 2021.
Charlatan is released on 7th May 2021 on digital platforms.
Watch the trailer for Charlatan here: