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Feature, Festivals

Berlinale 2020 Special: CHARLATAN

With CHARLATAN, Agnieszka Holland continues to explore her recurring themes of human nature vs. the natural world, and our tendencies toward inflicting petty cruelties.

This time around, it's the true story of Jan Mikolásek, a guy who's touched with a gift for healing people using natural remedies. Tragically, he's practicing at a time when the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia is privatizing medicine. So, after attempts to ruin him in the press prove unsuccessful, the powers that be attempt to pin a couple of deaths on him. On top of this, there's the ever-present threat that his homosexuality might be uncovered and used against him.

I don't think I've ever seen a bad Agnieszka Holland film, and CHARLATAN continues to prove how adept she is as a visual storyteller. She's on par with the best directors in how she can visually compose each scene in meaningful ways. And few are as good as she is at infusing their work with generations worth of injustice, while highlighting the insanity of human nature and our absurdly contradictory ways.

CHARLATAN revels in contradictions: in what it's like to be someone with the power of life or death in their hands, and what it looks like to be selfless in our work but selfish in our private relationships -- and then there's the bizarre reality of how Czechoslovakians got bounced between National Socialism and Communism. As CHARLATAN shows, even if people are trying to do as much good as they can in their lives -- to be the most noble comrade they can be -- we'll try to get rid of them if they don't adhere to the politics of the day.

There are two selfless characters in this film, with a very genuine love for one another. And the real heartbreak is how far their loyalties were pushed by the state, and how petty the reasons were. Like many of Holland's films, we're shown the best and worst of ourselves. She's giving us another story of courage and righteousness to fight against the feeling that we may be doomed to make the same mistakes again and again.

Feb 28th, at 9:30am (Haus der Berliner Festspiele) and 1pm (Friedrichstadtpalast)
Feb 29th, at 9pm (Haus der Berliner Festspiele)

Sean Erickson