Note: I wrote this brief description of Andrzej Żuławski's Szamanka for the Cinefamily repertory theater, who are screening the film as part of the first-ever U.S. retrospective of the Polish director's work--concurrent with an identical series running in Brooklyn--on Saturday, March 31st, 2012. Below is the unedited copy.
Andrzej Żuławski's unrelenting 1996 feature, Szamanka, took the Polish provocateur’s skewed vision of sexuality to dizzying new extremes, realizing Manuela Gretkowska’s scandalous novel as something equally visceral and assaultive to the senses. The experience, then, is exactly that: less plot-driven exposition—indeed, the narrative is almost completely incomprehensible—than a careening series of sexualized set pieces, each more uniquely bizarre than the last. The szamanka (“she-shaman”) herself is a character of fierce, streamlined concentration, manipulating the emotions of a disconcerted anthropologist determined to reconcile the recent death of a shaman with that of this man-eating figure of female empowerment. That actress Iwona Petry fell into self-inflicted obscurity—some claiming the psychological torment of the role leading to a breakdown and subsequent journey toward enlightenment—only adds to the singularity of one of the most committed performances in all of Żuławski. By the end of the film—which is quite literally a feast of the cerebral—a certain numbness will have no doubt set in, the ferocious tactility of Żuławski’s images an exorcism of life’s grotesque underbelly and the galvanization of career’s worth of unsettling themes. [Cinefamily]