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‘Charlatan’ review: Conflicting look at a herbal healer

Examine their urine.

Charlatan is a perfect biopic for today’s world. The drama is about Czech healer Jan Mikolasek to diagnose illness through age, sex, and urine. Now more than ever, quick fixes and alternative methods are finding their way into people’s lives. Mikosalek used plants to help his patients that included Nazis and communists. He may have been successful, but he was also very controversial.

Director Agnieska Holland does a magnificent job of conveying the conflicting parts of the supposed healer’s life. He refused to nationalize in a country that essentially demanded it, yet he had no problems helping Adolf Hitler’s chief of staff. He genuinely wanted to help people, but what he coveted most was power for himself. He was homosexual when being gay was a criminal offense.

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Charlatan showcases all the contradictions that make Mikolasek such an interesting character. Instead of a movie about a possible fake healer, it is a tale of a person who seemed to know what they wanted to do in life, but had trouble handling things on a personal level. In keeping with this theme, the script itself is something of a contradiction. Despite its title, the film is not an examination of techniques or a look at a con man. Charlatan is about a man who truly believes his methods help people. There are even scenes that show Mikolasek actually has an almost mystical skillset. At times, it seems the movie wants audiences to believe in Mikolasek’s medical skills.

The flip side is that Charlatan shows its subject doing some incredible things. It is one thing when he determines ailments and even times of death by looking at urine. It is something else entirely when he tells a boy that sunlight can cure their polio. If this were to happen today, the prescribing doctor would be labeled as kind of funny and definitely dangerous on social media.

Still, the film manages to stay engaging. The plot is an interesting character study and when Charlatan shies away from giving validity to Mikolasek’s medical practices, it conveys a story few will be familiar with. It is in these more human and realistic moments that the movie shines. All the conflicting parts of the main character become relatable, even to those who have never hurt a kitten.

Charlatan opens in Theaters, Virtual Cinemas and Premium Video On Demand Nationwide July 23

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