The Prague Remedy

Charlatan

Director: Agnieska Holland

Cast: Ivan Trojan, Josef Trojan, Juraj Loj, Jiri Cerny, Jaroslava Pokorna

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Czech and German with English Subtitles

Running Time: 118 minutes

Charlatan is screened virtually at the 8th European Film Festival from 14th – 24th October 2021 – https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/films/

In a similar vein to director Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, Polish director Agnieska Holland’s handsome period drama Charlatan tackles the life and love of famed Czech healer Jan Mikolasec  played by Ivan Trojan who developed an uncanny knack for prescribing herbal remedies to patients based on their urine, a diagnosis determined by age and gender.

Ivan Trojek stars as Jan Mikolasec

Most notably, Mikolasec managed to navigate the political and social turmoil of mid 20th century Czechoslovakia as the country was first invaded and by the Nazi’s and then after World War 2, Czechoslovakia fell into the grip an equally totalitarian regime, the soviets as it got incorporated into the Iron Curtain until its liberation into glorious freedom during the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Oscar nominated screenwriter and director of Europa Europa (1990), Agnieska Holland returns to the big screen with this touching film Charlatan about the tormented journey of Mikolasec and his hidden and rapturous love affair with his beautiful assistant Frantisek Palko, a truly stunning and muscular young man perfectly played by Slovakian actor Juraj Loj.

Both Mikolasec and Palko are married to women as a means to conceal their homosexuality as it was completely illegal both under the Nazi’s and under the equally cruel Soviet regime.

What director Agnieska Holland perfectly does is capture the conflicting emotions of this fascinating man, Mikolasec as he is tormented, cruel and gifted. Agnieska Holland who has featured prominently in directing several episodes of the brilliant political series House of Cards, once again highlights the slippery boundaries of sexuality amidst the shifting geo-political landscape in Czechoslovakia from the late 1930’s until the late 1950’s through the Nazi era and onto the Soviet era, a theme she returns to as she did so brilliantly in House of Cards.

Charlatan is a tough watch, it is both beautiful and horrific, and equal parts a semi-mythical tale of a talented herbalist and his beautiful assistant and their forbidden love affair, as they set up a business prescribing herbal remedies to the local population and earning money off their respective ailments.

The narrative is told in a series of flashbacks to Mikolasec’s youth, the younger version of himself ironically played by Ivan Trojan’s son Josef Trojan as he learns the secret of his tradecraft from a mysterious herbalist Mrs Muhlbacherova played by Jaroslava Pokorna.

Beautifully filmed, Charlatan gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is a fascinating period piece about a Czech herbalist who didn’t achieve fame outside of Eastern Europe but went through a harrowing time in his own country. This film is recommended viewing.

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