Szamanka (1996) Poster


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Zulawski explores shamans and sexuality
timmy_5016 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Like most Zulawski films, Szamanka is most notable for the camera-work. As usual, the camera moves around fluidly and Zulawski, working with his usual DP Andrzej Jaroszewicz, frequently employs some unusual angles that greatly complement the film's off-kilter tone. Also as usual for this Polish director, the acting style is stylized in a rather unique way as the principle characters behavior is always extreme, or at the very least exaggerated. While the film is in many ways typical of Zulawski, I was surprised to see that most of his directorial characteristics, while present, were relatively subdued, almost as if he was attempting to make his films more accessible to a mainstream audience, not that there's anything mainstream about the film's narrative.

The plot of Szamanka focuses on the very physical relationship between Michal, an anthropology professor, and a nameless psychotic woman who claims to be a student and works at a meat packing plant. As the film opens, Michal has discovered the corpse of a shaman preserved in the ground for thousands of years. Michal, whose own brother is Catholic priest, becomes obsessed with the shaman and the girl in equal measure. It's difficult not to draw a parallel between modern priests and ancient shamans here, as Michal's mystical communion with the shaman's corpse eventually leads him to consider becoming a priest himself. Michal also appears to be somewhat torn in his love life as he must choose between his fiancée, the cultured daughter of his employer, and the diametrically opposite student, whose own inability to conform to the rules of society is apparent in her proclivity for petty theft and her difficulty dealing with her mother and young children. So it seems that the central question of the film is whether Michal should embrace man's primal nature and continue his relationship with the shamanastic mad woman or return to modern civilization, either with his fiancée or through the priesthood. Yet all these thematic concerns are oddly de- emphasized as the film is too often composed of repetitive sex scenes. Typically of Zulawski, the film ends with some rather insane acts and what appears to be a rather large explosion.

All in all, this was a rather uneven film which raised some interesting themes but didn't explore them with much depth, instead focusing overmuch on an odd sexual relationship. Still, Zulawski's style is interesting enough on its own to make up for some of the film's flaws.
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A psychological minefield
fred-8312 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
May contain minor spoiler. Szamanka is reminiscent of The Piano Teacher and Last Tango in Paris, but where Michael Haneke is subdued and restrained, Zulawski is quite the polar opposite. Hanekes ID unleashed, if you will. Frantic camera-work and extreme performances, sometimes bordering on the laughable, but still held together in some strange way. I also remember feeling the same way about Jack Nicholsons performance in The Shining, the first time I watched it, overplayed but still exactly within the boundaries of the movie and the vision. The cinematography is truly impressive, adding to the sense of doom and despair with its deep, rich blacks. I always admire Zulawskis use of the camera, here he excels in the use of Steadicam, and he manages to make the most out of the locations and the superb sets with his eye for staging's, angles and timing. Zulawski seems to be, like in many of his other movies, very interested in extreme ways of behavior, the limits of speech and expression. Here he treads a psychological minefield, creates a unpleasant but still fascinating journey toward the climax of an obsessive and doomed relationship. Not for everyone but if you enjoyed (if that is the right word), lets say: if you were intrigued by the aforementioned The Pianist and Last Tango, you would want to see this one. Zulawski is one of the most interesting European directors alive today, I hope he will be active again in the future.
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Erotic, Occult, Sad, Weird, And Unforgettable
realend19 January 2004
This is the Most Peculiar movie I've seen. The characters are very psychopathic. Rather they make me mad.

She(her names never appear)behaves intensely instinctively all the time.

And there is numerous explicit Sex scenes. If it release in USA, maybe rated NC-17. Above all, the zealous acting moved me.

Though this is a difficult film, I really love this.
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"Chamanka - Italianka" or "The Last Tango in Krakow"
Galina_movie_fan30 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Director Andrzej Zulawski's adaptation of Manuela Gretkowska's controversial screenplay tells the story of an anthropology professor Michal's (Boguslaw Linda) who as the movie progresses develops two overwhelming obsessions. The first one is a mummified, 3,000 year-old, perfectly preserved body of a Shaman he and his colleagues have recently dragged out of a swamp, and the second – an enigmatic student (Iwona Petry) he meets by chance at Krakow Railway Station. In exactly a minute after they meet, they have passionate but joyless sex "The Last Tango in Paris" style. The girl whose name we'll never learn has been known as "The Italian" – she is not an Italian, she just used to work at the Italian Restaurant and make the best Pizza in town (or so she says). She emits some primitive, dangerous sexuality - she is unpredictable, swift and reckless. Very soon she and the professor are engaged in the affair that grows dark and explicit, and the movie enters "In The Realm of Senses" territory which prepares you for a very predictable and (if you ask me) ridiculous ending. Between plentiful (and boring) erotic scenes, including the butter-scene from the above mentioned Last Tango in Paris but with no butter, Michal tries to solve the mystery of the Shaman (remember, it is his first obsession?) There is one absolutely comical scene with Michal and his colleagues chanting and dancing around an indifferent mummy. There are also some young men running the streets of Krakow, screaming and firing the guns (I believe that it is supposed to represent the director's comments and criticism of the Polish Politics – but he lost me there). By the end of the movie Michal realizes that he must run from "The Italian" because (as he correctly guessed) "she is death" but the sexually voracious and violently disturbed girl has another plans for him...

I don't know what to think about this movie – is it an underrated breathtaking masterpiece of brutality, explicit sex, and passion that know no boundaries and no mercy or just a most pretentious, ridiculous, badly edited, and absolutely not original piece of cinematic garbage I've ever seen? The more I think of the fact that I had been smiling, laughing, and giggling through the entire movie (and I don't think that it was an expected reaction on this horror/occult/adult drama) the more it makes me lean to latter. Perhaps, if I'd never heard of or seen "The Last Tango in Paris", "In the Realm of Senses", "The Piano Teacher", I would've been in awe but I've seen them all and "Chamanka" did not tell me anything new about obsessive-possessive love-passion-hate that inevitably leads to self-destruction and death. Oh, no, wait, the creators of the movie threw in some nice and spicy elements as irrationality, necrophilia, mysticism, and (wow!) cannibalism but the dinner served a-la Dr. Lecter did not shock me; on the contrary I found it laughable.

I know that Zhulavski had been in trouble with the authorities in Poland during the Communist era and the obvious assaults on conventional morality, Catholicism, and Polish censorship – can be clearly seen in his film but that did not make it more interesting for me, either.
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Ultimately Disappointing
arfdawg-11 February 2019
The film is really well made and the first half is very intriguing but then it starts to unravel and becomes rather tedious.

Contrary to the urban legend the female lead, Iwona Petry was not plucked out of obscurity to be in this movie. She was actually in another Polish film three years earlier.

And she didnt leave movies because she was traumatized by the nude scenes, which are relatively tame. She got married about the time this movie was made, returned to school and has been writing books of poetry ever since.

She sure did have a smoking hot body in this film, but she's not a good actress and she hasnt aged well.

The movie is worth a look, but be warned: you will likely get bored around midway.
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The absolute low point of Andrzej Zulawski's career
helgis-6312030 May 2019
The controversial screenplay by Manuela Gretkowska became unwatchable when transferred to the big screen. In 2004 the film was voted the worst Polish movie of all time although the competition grew a little stronger since then, of course ;) Iwona Petry instead of becoming a famous actress needed therapy to recover from "the experience". I wouldn't say - avoid at all cost, but please don't start your viewing adventure with the late Polish master's movies with this... work.
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