Skip to main content

FILM OF THE WEEK A fortune out of spent pennies

MARIA DUARTE is intrigued by the fascinating tale of a Czech herbal healer who diagnosed his patients by examining their urine

Charlatan (15)
Directed by Agnieszka Holland 

DUBBED the “oracle of urine,” this fascinating and complex drama set in the 1950s is based on the little known but real-life story of Czech herbal healer Jan Mikolasek, who could diagnose people’s ailments just by looking at their pee. 




Shot in a highly artistic, almost reverential way it makes for gross yet strangely enthralling viewing as Mikolasek (an outstanding Ivan Trojan) holds glass bottles full of his patients’ urine up to the natural light and examines them.

Mikolasek was a celebrated and devout healer who apparently treated several million people — ranging from the poor to Czechoslovakia’s Communist leaders and high-ranking Nazi officials during the German occupation.

Director Agnieszka Holland’s compelling film chronicles the rise and fall of this unconventional but unbelievably gifted medicine man, whose unorthodox methods made him both rich and famous through the course of three different regimes and two world wars.

It also explores his battle with inner demons and his dark side through flashbacks to his youth (his younger self is played by Trojan’s son Josef) his violent and sadistic streak is revealed.

There are also his struggles with his sexuality as he conducts a secret and passionate affair with his married assistant Frantisek Palko (Juraj Loj) — the only person who could reach him emotionally — which results in him praying for redemption at the rocky feet of a crucified Christ. 

There is no sense of the passing of time or of location and unfortunately the film does not provide any critique of Mikolasek, who did whatever it took to survive and continue his work treating sick patients, regardless of their background or politics.

Hounded by the Communist authorities, who were suspicious of him and his success, the film ends on a powerful and shocking note which speaks volumes about the man. It also gives you a surprising insight into urology.

Available on demand.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 16,894
We need:£ 1,106
1 Days remaining
Donate today