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1 rating: 5.0
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Szamanka (English: The Shaman) is a Polish-French-Swiss film, released in 1996, directed by Andrzej Żuławski and adapted from a screenplay by Manuela Gretkowska. The film, which was controversial upon its release in Poland, is about the obsessive relationship … see full wiki

Tags: Movie, Horror, Mystery, Obsession, Polish, Zulawski
1 review about Szamanka

Naked Soul

  • Mar 25, 2011
Finally, we have the full UNCUT special edition of Zulawski's beloved film on DVD thanks to Mondo Vision, who have done their absolute best to ensure proper releases for a great deal of Zulawski's catalog. Now we are hoping for a long-awaited re-release for Possession as it's been out of print for some time and perhaps a re-packaging of Diabel or The Silver Globe as the Polart releases left much to be desired considering Zulawski's film are nothing less than brilliant works to be cherished by film lovers' across the world.

As is made clear on the disc, Mondo Vision refused a couple of prints of the film before settling on the master used here. Restored for dirt, debris and noise, the result is an improvement over previous DVD releases for which praise may only be qualified by the comparison with previous Mondo releases. Szamanka's packaging resembles some of Criterion's early works with the sturdy cardboard box exterior. Even more impressive, we are bequeathed interviews with both screenplay writer and director. Although I can't comment on the deluxe edition, special is the operative word in the special edition.

Ironically, this is the only film that Zulawski has ever made in his native country where it generated much controversy due to the explicit sexuality. Unfortunately, the film had a limited theatrical release and sold about 400,000 tickets. In France, the film had a limited theatrical release and sold 11,150 tickets. Szamanka was also screened during the Venice Film Festival in 1996. Naturally, this wasn't the first time Zulawski was attacked or criticized for making unconventional artwork so it's truly a blessing for us to see this film at all.

For Zulawski, Szamanka was to be a film "without masks". Returning to his native Poland, Andrzej Zulawski asked Manuela Gretkowska to write a screenplay for him to film in the now post communist 1990s. Given the use of a writer other than himself and another country, it is surprising how much Szamanka shares with Zulawski's earlier work and at times even recalls his celebrated film Possession.

Although it's almost impossible or even perverse to admit, Iwona Petry's performance at times mirrors the Adjani's masterful turn in Possession. Iwona Petry plays the "Italian" and I don't think we ever learn her name throughout the course of 112 mins. At least, I don't recall any mention of it. In fact, we learn very little the young woman's background other than the fact she supposedly makes the hottest pizzas and tends to be rather high strung. One can only gather from a few short scenes that our female comes from a dysfunctional family which could explain her sudden emotional outbursts or tendency to steal. Lastly, The Italian's strong addiction to sexual intercourse of any kind with virtually anyone making her a loose cannon and unstable rather than completely vulnerable as viewers might believe.

In the beginning of Szamanka, the Italian meets a young but very engaged anthropology professor Michal during her search for an apartment. She accepts the apartment offered which was previously occupied by his brother, a priest. The scene culminates with a rather intense but erotic sex scene. As anyone can guess, this is not the last time our characters' paths shall cross nor is this a one time fling.

Michal spends his afternoons giving lectures on the human body, studying mental illness, and even takes part in an excavation with his students where a well-preserved body of 3,000 year old shaman is found. Unable to initially pinpoint the shaman's death, Michal is determined to examine the body with his students which seems unnatural given that the shaman was only 25-30 years old when he expired.

With each montage, it becomes more and more evident that our Italian will not be satisfied with a mere tryst and is determined to have the young professor at all costs. Although Michal does take her seemingly unending sexual needs for granted and makes light of the Italian's intensifying obsession, he cannot bring himself to stay away and even takes some comfort in the fact that she is literally taken by him and his sexual prowess.

Within days, Michal's life spirals completely out of control. We learn that his brother was a priest and an active homosexual although he couldn't straddle the two worlds and ends up committing suicide. Unable to cope with the loss of his brother, Michal continues his obsessive love affair with the Italian and even proceeds to move in her apartment. In turn, he severs his relationship with the fiance.

Zulawski's film carefully examines how relationships are often elements of destruction and even well-meaning people get caught up in the aspects of love which jeopardize our health or relationships with others. Not only does he focus on the unhealthy or unnatural circumstances which are repercussions but he shows how the forces of good and evil are almost always present in any given situation.

Although a severed relationship is inevitable, Szamanka demands to explore the darkest recesses of hallucinations and delusion when we look to love as our final statement in defining who we are or what we really need. Perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes in Szamanka is towards the end of the film where Michal comes in contact with the spirit of the shaman. During this illumination, we learn the cause of the shaman's death and perhaps this is a mere foreshadowing of what will happen to Michal if he doesn't let go of his current obsession. Even though it's merely a dream or altered illusion rather than a reality, there's a great deal of validity to be found in this montage.

In addition, Zulawski doesn't seem to be content in just exploring the nature of obsessive relations but also manages to tackle the then current states of affairs in Poland which should have been another spark of controversy and large notch in his continuous belt of censorship although there is no mention of it anywhere to the best of my knowledge at this present time. In a few scenes, it becomes blatantly obvious that our director could see all too well the oppressive politics or shady doings in his native country which seem to fit in nicely in the grand scheme of things.

In conclusion, Szamanka doesn't end on a happy note but it's certain that horror film enthusiasts everywhere or fans of great cinema in general are going to love this if they give it a try. I would perhaps suggest watching Zulawski's Possession first as primer before taking on Szamanka although both films are revolutionary works of a master's art in top form. Do not pass up your chance to see this film.
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March 28, 2011
Never seen this one, excellent review.
March 28, 2011
Thanks! I'm glad that you enjoyed the read and hopefully it's helpful. You probably will like Szamanka. If you enjoyed Lars von Trier's Antichrist or Zulawski's Possession, this one is almost a parallel. Happy viewings! ;-)
March 25, 2011
oh my. This sounds pretty interesting and one that it appears aimed for fans like us. Sweet!! I hope it's not too expensive...
March 28, 2011
i paid $25 for it but I had some gift cards. You would LOVE this!!
March 28, 2011
Antichrist and Zulawski's Possession are somewhat similar to this and you could easily put them on the same shelf. ;-) Very impressive film.
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