These opening sentences are getting a little redundant. Today I’m once again treating myself to a film from the international feature Oscar shortlist. The only thing that separates today from yesterday is that I did find time today to watch a documentary short from that shortlist after. Regardless, I’m going to keep writing these introductory paragraphs for now, but I will be allowing them to get shorter if there’s not much to say.
Charlatan (2020, Dir. Agnieszka Holland)
I don’t feel like I have a good grasp on how to access Charlatan from a narrative standpoint. The story of Jan Mikolásek feels like it should be told fantastical. A man with a supernatural heeling power who can diagnose any patient through their urine should be larger than life, but the film is aggressively grounded by its nature as a biopic. Given the grounded tone of the film, I feel the film must play better to a demographic of people who know of Mikolásek going into the film.
From a filmmaking standpoint, Charlatan succumbs to the standard biopic pitfall. In trying to tell Mikolásek’s entire life in two hours, the film becomes little more than an episodic collection of scenes from a man’s life. The framing device of him explaining it to his lawyer while incarcerated does little to tie each individual scene together. The film adequately tells the life story of a man but has no cohesive artistic message. It’s not a bad movie; it just lacks anything special and plays out like any other biopic.
Do Not Split (2020, Dir. Anders Hammer)
Tonight’s documentary short stands in stark contrast to the film that preceded it. Do Not Split was a film with a very distinct style and thematic message. The film captures the Hong Kong protests from late 2019 from a filmmaker on the front line with the protesters. The film is brutally honest in its portrayal and creation. Any interviews are taken on the streets and oft interrupted rather than staged far away from the topic. If I’m being honest, this film meshes with me politically in a way that makes it difficult to be completely objective about it. I can acknowledge that the score was a bit over the top melodrama but having spent much of last summer at police protests of my own I got overly invested in the protesters on screen.