Jan Mikosálek (Ivan Trojan) was a unique physician during his life where he treated many people throughout World War Two in Czechoslovakia when the population were under Nazi occupation, with many parts of the country being divided between Germany, Hungary and Poland. His alternative medicines and his keen observational eye helped to diagnose and treat his patients, saving many lives.
However, after World War Two, Mikosálek continued his practice well into the fifties and this is where Charlatan picks up his story, going back and forth through his life as he awaits trial after being accused of murder.
Whatever you believe in what we now know as homeopathy, the filmmakers make it very clear from the start that Mikosálek is an innocent man and that his treatments and diagnosis were truly a special gift.
Although, as the film goes back through his life, from when the young Jan (Josef Trojan) started to learn his trade to the fictionalised affair that he had, it seems that Charlatan doesn’t seem to know what kind of biopic that it wants to be.
There are three routes the story could go in; it could have been a story where a young man fascinated with healing learns to treat people in a way most modern audiences wouldn’t consider. It could have been solely about the murder trial where an older Jan strives to prove his innocence whilst looking back at his life and all the good that he had done. It could have even been about a later relationship in his life that enriched his character and made him truly understand who he was.
The problem is that the combination of all three feels uneven and the latter perhaps serving to pad out a story that the filmmakers may have had enough confidence in telling.
Both Ivan and Josef Trojan play their parts well, with the younger perhaps not having as much to do as his father. The production is also perhaps worthy of Oscar attention as it transports its audience to a part of the world that history has long forgotten. It’s just a shame that when one intriguing part of the story starts, it’s overtaken by another.
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