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Friday, October 8, 2021


(Ivan Trojan plays Jan Mikolášek)

Charlatan will feature on the virtual programme of the European Film Festival which runs from October 14 to 24, 2021.

An absorbing, complex portrait of a Czech faith healer during the inter-war years through to the mid-1950s. (Review by Patrick Compton)

Distinguished Polish director Agnieszka Holland provides an absorbing, complex portrait of a Czech faith healer during the inter-war years through to the mid-1950s.

It is yet another of her films torn from the tormented heart of an ideologically troubled Europe that Holland specialises in, particularly in movies such as Europa, Europa (1990), In Darkness (2011) and Mr Jones (2019).

Scripted by Czech scriptwriter Marek Epstein, the perhaps ironically titled Charlatan (because Holland clearly doesn’t believe he is) is the lightly-fictionalised account of a real-life herbalist, something of a cult figure at the time, whose deepest desire was to heal people’s illnesses by analysing their urine samples. He is so successful at doing this that he attracts great numbers of patients, from peasants to politicians, rich and poor.

Brilliantly played in an austere vein by the famous Czech actor, Ivan Trojan, Jan Mikolášek’s story is told in flashback following his arrest by the communist authorities after the death of his most famous client, Czech president Antonín Zápotocký, in 1957. Zápotocký’s death left him vulnerable to communist fears that he was rich, popular, existed outside state medicine and was something of an independent force.

His arrest, and subsequent meetings with his defence lawyer as he prepares for trial, offer Holland the opportunity to introduce flashbacks on his youth, training and start as a herbalist.

It is clear that Mikolášek tries to see himself as beyond politics, however hard that may be to pull off, and this causes him problems with the Germans during the war and the Russians after it. It is quite clear, however, that Holland sees his healing methods as authentic, particularly as he admits, on occasion, that he is unable to help certain patients.

Where the film works particularly well is its attempt to understand Mikolášek the man and his relationship with his assistant-lover Frantisek Palko (Juraj Loj). If Mikolášek is not a charlatan in so far as his life work is concerned, he is nevertheless a deeply repressed, tormented man with a violent streak. He is forced to hide his homosexuality from all the authorities during his life and this provides Holland with material that deepens the psychological scope of the film.

Holland’s own mark of authenticity throughout her career has been to insist on realism, that is a concern to present a full appraisal of her subject(s) even if this raises questions that can’t be easily answered.

Mikolášek is no saint, and Holland is not interested in presenting him as one. Indeed, some of his actions in the film are deeply reprehensible. Holland recently commented on this aspect of her film-making, saying: “There’s only one message that I have; that life is complicated and people are very complex. The simplification is the lie … I am interested in the mystery of others.” - Patrick Compton

Charlatan can be seen free of charge from October 14 to 24, 2021, on the European Film Festival’s website. For more information visit


Availability of the films:

Films are only available for viewing from October 14, 2021 (12 am) to October 24, 2021 (12 pm)

All bookings and access to films will automatically start and end within the dates above.

Once a film is booked you have two days in which to watch the film and 24 hours to complete watching once the film has started

Access to films will close once viewing capacity is reached

All films are free to watch

Films are available to viewers within South Africa only (with a South African IP address)


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To watch

The chosen film will be added to your library under your account dropdown (top right)

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