“I wanted to tell this story because it asks so many questions on so many levels,” admits acclaimed Polish director Agnieszka Holland about why she wanted to direct her latest film, the Czech/Polish/Irish/Slovak co-production “Charlatan.” “It’s an intimate story with an epic scope,” she says. Watch our exclusive video interview with Holland above.
“Charlatan” is based on the true story of Czech healer Jan Mikolášek, who dedicated his life to treat the sick using medicinal plants. Throughout the war and turmoil of the 20th century he has to choose between his calling and his conscience. The film stars acclaimed Czech actor Ivan Trojan in a stunning performance as Mikolášek, alongside his real-life son Josef Trojan as the younger Mikolášek. The film co-stars Czech matinee idol Juraj Loj as the healer’s devoted assistant František Palko.
The film peels back the layers of the man at the center of the story, leaving it open to interpretation as to why the film’s title suggests there may be more to him than meets the eye. “I personally believe that on a professional level he was not a charlatan. He was not a crook. He never pretended that he could help somebody that he was unable to help. But at the same time there was a lot of pretending, of hubris, of narcissism,” Holland explains. “He’s an ambiguous character and we don’t have easy answers to the questions about his life. We wanted to ask the questions more than give the answers.”
“Somebody asked me, what are my movies about? What am I trying to tell with my movies? [There’s] only one message I have; that life is complicated and people are very complex,” Holland says. “The simplification is the lie. We are so eager in our days to simplify, to judge, to know better, to see the other with the eyes of our agenda or our ideological beliefs. We are so polarized. So I am interested in the mystery of others.”
Holland has the distinction of shepherding two feature films to Oscar recognition in the Best Foreign-Language Film category (now known as Best International Feature) to date: her West German film “Angry Harvest” in 1985 and her Polish film “In Darkness” in 2011. For perhaps her most well-known film to date, “Europa Europa,” Holland was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1992. Now that “Charlatan” is one of 15 that the motion picture academy recently included on its shortlist out of 93 eligible features from all over the world, Holland is once again in the conversation as a potential Oscar nominee. When the Oscar nominations are officially unveiled on March 15, if “Charlatan” claims one of the five slots in the Best International Feature category, Holland will be the first helmer to do so for three films from three different countries.
“Charlatan” would be the fourth Czech film to be nominated since the establishment of the Czech Republic in 1993, with “Kolya” winning in 1996, followed by nominations for “Divided We Fall” (2000) and “Želary” (2003). Before that, six films from Czechoslovakia reaped Oscar nominations in the foreign language film category – acclaimed Czech director Milos Forman‘s “Loves of a Blonde” in 1966 and “The Fireman’s Ball” in 1968, as well as “My Sweet Little Village” in 1986 and “The Elementary School” in 1991 – with two films triumphing on Oscar night (“The Shop on Main Street” in 1965 and “Closely Watched Trains” in 1967).
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