Czech film Charlatan makes Oscar shortlist for Best International Film

'Charlatan', photo: Marlene Film Production

The Czech film Charlatan, a biographical drama about a controversial healer in communist-era Czechoslovakia, directed by Agnieszka Holland, has made the shortlist of 15 films in the running for Best International Film in this year’s Academy Awards. The final Oscar nominations are due to be announced in mid-March.

The film Charlatan, set in the dark days of Czechoslovakia’s communist regime, was written by Marek Epstein and directed by the great Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland.

It is based on the true and little-known story of Czech healer Jan Mikolášek, who treated thousands of people using his own, plant-based remedies. His patients included celebrities, but also Nazi officers and prominent communist politicians, including Czechoslovak president Antonín Zápotocký.

Holland has described the film as a story about Mikolášek’s “moral fall and of his constant fight with the darkness inside him.”

Starring in the role of Mikolášek is one of the Czech Republic’s most acclaimed actors, Ivan Trojan, while his real-life 18-year-old son Josef portrays his younger version, presented in the flashbacks.

According to film critic Vojtěch Rynda, it is no great surprise that Charlatan has made this year’s Oscar shortlist, given that three of Agnieszka Holland’s previous films, Angry Harvest, Europa, Europa and In Darkness, were nominated for the award.

“All of these take place in troubled times in the middle of the 20the century which shows a consistency both in Holland’s academic output but also in the Academy’s taste. I can imagine that members of the academy voted for Charlatan as a gesture of respect for Holland’s lifetime work.

'Charlatan',  photo: Czech Television

“Making the Oscars shortlist is a great achievement for Czech cinema all the more that it follows one year after Václav Marhoul’ s Painted Bird made the shortlist and after the animated short Daughter was nominated for an Oscar.”

Only three films have made it to the final Oscar nomination since the foundation of the independent Czech state in 1993, including Ondřej Trojan’s Želary, Jan Hřebejk’s Divided We Fall and Jan Svěrák’s Kolja.

Among the front runners that made the 15-strong shortlist this year are Andrei Konchalovsky’s Dear Comrades! and Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, a big winner at this year’s European Film Awards. Vojtěch Rynda again:

“Compared to Another Round, Charlatan is not a straightforward crowd-pleaser, since it asks more questions than it gives answers to. However, in my opinion, it still stands a great chance at the Oscars.”

Charlatan is the only Czech contender that made the Oscar shortlist this year. The animated short SH_T HAPPENS, directed by FAMU students Michaela Mihályi and Dávid Štumpf, which qualified for the 2021 nominations, has not been selected.

The final nominations will be announced on March 15 and the 93rd Oscar ceremony is scheduled to take place on Sunday, April 25.