Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Movie with Abe: Charlatan

Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Release TBD

Academic and scientific fields have many subsections and specialties under them which require extensive training and knowledge. Those who haven’t taken the time to learn about those particulars may not put the same stock in their validity, and that’s even truer for laypeople outside of those careers entirely. At the same time, eager consumers may wish to have their ailments and peculiarities diagnosed by someone considered to be controversial or experimental in the hopes of procuring a miracle cure or breakthrough that can aid them tremendously. The dangers of such enterprises, especially under totalitarian rule, are compellingly explored in the Czech Republic’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature.

Jan Mikolásek (Ivan Trojan) is a renowned healer in the Czech Republic, famous for his ability to look at a vial of urine and prescribe a particular regimen. Legions of people line up each day for their chance to get his eye and his professional recommendation, while newspapers and skeptics decry him as a fraud with no proven expertise. When he is arrested by the Communist government for his role in the deaths of two patients, he reflects on his history as a younger man (Josef Trojan) and the close, forbidden relationship he formed with his loyal assistant, Frantisek Palko (Juraj Loj).

Whether Mikolásek’s skills are to be believed as authentic or not, his style, and the way this film showcases him, is certainly impressive. The man, who repeats to anyone who calls him a doctor that he is not in fact a doctor, takes pride in what he does and won’t tolerate being questioned by anyone, nor does he have patience for those who want him to do more than a momentary analysis since, as flashbacks to his apprenticeship education reveal, instinct is most relevant in this study, and additional time won’t be of any help. Mikolásek is not friendly or interested in getting anyone to like him, traits that don’t serve him particularly well when he finds himself on trial and in need of witnesses to defend his character.

The narrative structure of this film succeeds in establishing Mikolásek as an enigma of sorts before peeling back the layers that make him an intriguing and complex main character. A softer side emerges through scenes set during the era of Nazi rule and detailing his affection for Palko, a secret they must hide together. Having father and son play two versions of the same character proves very effective, and, opposite both of them, Loj is a fabulously energetic foil. Veteran filmmaker Agnieszka Holland skillfully directs an involving story that brings to life a forgotten figure of history who even this film isn’t quite sure how to perceive, leaving audiences to come to their own conclusions about his talent and righteousness.


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