Thursday, May 30, 2013

Szamanka (Andrzej Żuławski, 1996)

If Anna, Isabelle Adjani's character from Possession, saw Iwona Petry's "The Italian" walking down the street, she would probably think to herself, "Girl, you ain't hooked up right." Or, "Girl, you need to take it down a notch." And, as anyone who has seen Possession can attest, that's a little like the...I'm gonna have stop myself for a second, because I don't want to use that idiom that involves a talking pot and a dark-coloured kettle. But let's just say, Anna from Possession is a bit of a hypocrite. I mean, who is she trying to kid? She's the queen of acting unhinged in an urban setting. Though, in all seriousness, I did wonder what would happen if Anna, a deranged brunette in an indigo dress, and The Italian, a deranged brunette in a leopard-print dress, were to run into each other on the street. Which reminds me, wouldn't it have been great if Isabelle Adjani made a cameo appearance in this film? Nothing too fancy, just show the look on her face as she watched The Italian eat a plate of cow brains at an outdoor cafe. Actually, now that I think about it, that kind of cuteness has no place in the enigmatic world of Szamanka (The Shamen), Andrzej Żuławski's erotic clusterfuck about the healthiest relationship this side of Wrocław. (Oh, and, by the way, if you pronounce it "Wrock-claw," I get to kick you in the crotch. It's pronounced, "Vrots-waf." Learn it. Know it. Live it.)  Even though you will occasionally see people, Polish people, to be ethnically specific, doing things that could be construed as normal. Make no mistake, nothing that occurs in this film comes close to being normal. And, to make matters even less normal, I'm the person who's been selected to watch it. Let me give an example of how the pairing of me and this exceedingly odd slice of Euro-reared art-house meshuganah is a spastic hissy-fit just waiting to happen. Every time Iwona Petry would appear onscreen in her trademark black leather cap, I would start to sing the lyrics to "My Time" by Ann Steel, a catchy disco song from 1979.      
What's the reason for this seemingly random connection? Damn, there are so many. You know what? I'll give you two reasons. The first one is obvious, both Ann Steel and Iwona Petry are wearing similar hats. Sure, the one Ann Steel wears in the video for "My Time" is yellow and the one Iwona Petry is wearing is clearly black, but they do have the same Alpine jauntiness about them.
The other, less obvious one, has to do with the line in the song, "Stored on the shelves of my memories, my thoughts are in perfect array." Now, you could say that this particular passage summarizes Iwona Petry's intellectual temperament. However, if you did use that line to describe Iwona Petry's "The Italian" (a.k.a. Włoszka), you would be openly mocked by cinema snobs and jackbooted geriatrics alike, as her thoughts are nowhere near being "in perfect array." People who eat cow brains on purpose don't have their thoughts in perfect array. If anything, their thoughts are in perfect disarray.
The only non-zombie film in existence to begin with brain eating and to end with brain eating, Szamanka will frustrate and confuse most viewers. I, on the other hand. Yeah, yeah, we get it. You're cooler than the rest of us. What I was going to say was... Actually, now that you mention it, am I pretty cool. I mean, look at me. I'm typing words about an Andrzej Żuławski film in the most flippant manner possible.
Cue the part of the review where you go on long this tangent about how you wish Iwona Petry's "The Italian" was your girlfriend. Am I that predictable? Truth be told, I was drawn to The Italian, as I found her erratic behaviour to be bewitching at times. Yet, she also made a tad uneasy. I know, me? Uneasy? Poppycock. It's testament to the brilliance that is Iwona Petry, who, unlike Isabelle Adjani, isn't a professional actress. Seriously, though, the herculean effort she puts forth in this film is off the chart that registers such things.
Careening through the streets of Warszawa like a culturally inept marathon runner who's afraid of clowns, The Italian (Iwona Petry), called so for her talent for making pizza, bumps into an anthropologist named Michael (Bogusław Linda) at the train station. Trying in vain to convince his brother not to sell his apartment, The Italian somehow manages to get Michael to take her there.  
Once inside the apartment, The Italian and Michael engage in the first of many sex scenes that are featured in Szamanka. However, unlike most films, the sex scenes in this film are quite different. Oh, you can say that again. You can tell right away that things aren't going to be ho-hum as far as cinematic humping goes when the music of Andrzej Korzyński starts to blast on the soundtrack. Blast? Yeah, blast. It's akin to the music of Laibach or Test Dept. In other words, lot's of heavy drumming and operatic vocals.
Keep a close eye on Iwona Petry's face as her vagina is being penetrated by Michael's probably Polish penis. The sly smile she throws him the moment Michael reveals his "I'm currently ejaculating sperm from the tip of my penis" face, was awesome beyond belief. And what makes the sly smile even more awesome was the fact that she was already smiling at the time when she threw it. As for the reasoning behind the smile? My only guess is that The Italian realizes that she's the one who's going to be the dominate force in this relationship. And, as we all know, their relationship has just begun.
As The Italian, who is supposedly a student of some kind, goes about her daily routine, one that includes, trying to avoid the grabbing hands of pervy passengers on public transit, having unfulfilling sex with her doctor boyfriend (what makes it even more unfulfilling is the fact that he won't give her any money), trashing her mom's house, vomiting, reapplying smeared lipstick, and taking a piss by a lake, Michael and his team of scientists have discovered the perfectly preserved corpse of a 2,500 year old shaman at a dig site. 
Frustrated by the way her day has been going so far, The Italian attempts placate this frustration by tracking Michael down. Shouting, "Where is anthropology?" at almost everyone she comes in contact with (my favourite response was "anthropology is everywhere"), she finally finds him giving a lecture about shamanism to a group of students. As I watched her hump and French kissing a glass display case while she waits for him to finish, it's clear that The Italian wants to fuck something. Warm synths, spit licking, and weird face touching precede their eventual corporeal commingling.
After losing it at a cafe, The Italian, who must lose her shit at least five times a day, goes home to eat cat food and smear ice all over her face. In-between attending classes and working at her father's slaughterhouse, The Italian is brought to the birthday party of one of Michael's friends, or it could have been his father's birthday [Edit: The party was for Michael's fiancee]. Either way, Michael tells The Italian to wear a skimpy leopard-print dress paired with black pantyhose (his logic being, she can't attend a fancy party that's being attended by so-called "normal people" dressed like a gothic hobo).
Does performing an impromptu voodoo-style tribal dance at a birthday party count as losing your shit? The only reason I ask is because I think I might have missed the mark on the amount of times The Italian behaves erratically (a.k.a. loses her shit) over the course of a single day. Truth be told, I have a feeling she acts this way all the time. So, trying to pinpoint the exact amount of times she acts insane in a single day is a fruitless endeavour.  
The examination of the body of a two thousand year-old shaman covered with mystical tattoos and boasting a rectum full of two thousand year-old sperm, a train toilet sex scene where the male participant extols the virtues of his dead gay priest brother in-between moans, and the sight of leggiest woman ever to walk past a graffiti-covered wall are all what greet us over the next few scenes. Oh and if you liked The Italian's leggy graffiti walk, a similar walk occurs later on in the film as well.   
All the film's sex scenes, and there are plenty of them, have this raw, animalistic quality about them. Sure, they thrust their basin-shaped trunks one pelvis at a time like everyone else, but their sexual jabs seem to have an apocalyptic urgency about them.
Featuring one of the most perplexing performances in film history, three instances where brains are consumed, and two leggy walks (three if you include the leopard-print pantyhose walk), Szamanka, despite being chock-full of pompous gobbledygook half the time, is unlike anything I have ever seen. It's true, almost anyone can make a film that has mentally unhinged characters doing mentally unhinged things in an urban setting. But Andrzej Żuławski seems to be able to create worlds where everyone, even the extras, have decided to stop taking their meds. That's right, everyone is crazy in this film; The Italian's antics are just magnified. You would move in an irregular fashion as well if everyone you came in contact with was trying to paw at your supple flesh.
If you like your romantic comedies to have a metaphysical bent, this isn't the film for you; it's not a comedy. However, if you like watching deranged Poles fornicate to industrial music, and who doesn't? Then you need to watch this film.

video uploaded by cainavideo

Special thanks to Thomas Duke (Cinema Gonzo) for recommending this "crazy and awesome and crazy awesome and sexy as balls" film.


  1. My favorite Żuławski flick of the ones I've seen and quite possibly his most derranged which is saying A LOT considering how looney tunes films like L'amour Braque and Possession are. I like Adjani's performance in Possession a bit more because well, she's Isabelle Adjani and yeah but Petry KILLS it here, absolutly bonkers. The 2 disc DVD set via Mondo Vision is great albeit pricey.

  2. I'm adding L'amour Braque to my to watch list.

  3. I love "Possession," pompous gobbledygook, shamanism, and industrial music. Most of the films I watch feature mentally unbalanced Japanese engaging in violent fluid exchange. But we can mix things up every now and then.

    Although an online review of this film foully ruined the ending before I had the chance to watch it, I still want to see this film. Your excellent review just tipped the scales.

  4. There's a movie called "Hyper Trophy Genital Girl" or something like that at Eyesore Cinema that sounds like one of those Japanese movies you watch.

  5. I looked up "Hyper Trophy Genital Girl," and that's definitely NOT my speed. Kinda yuck.

    I was thinking more Tsukamoto Shinya, Shindou Kaneto, and Itou Shunya films.

  6. A schoolgirl grows a four foot penis, what's not to like. ;)

  7. [sad sigh] I guess I'm just tired of Japanese school girls always having their gentiles subjugated and abused. Even to the point when their very female sexual identity (i.e. the clitoris) is taken away and replaced by a huge dick. Its the age old curse of phallocentrism- only dicks have sexual power. So not fair. Plus those type of Japanese films have a certain "clientele" that I do not want to be associated with.


    Anyway, read through this review again and decided I must see this film. "Possession" continues to chew on my nerve endings. With all the shamanism and gobbledygook flying around in this one (literary and metaphorically), it looks like a must watch.

  8. I didn't know there were that many films that feature Japanese women without clitorises. [fake naivete]

    I see the ridiculous box art for Hypertrophy Genitals Girl (a huge blurred erect penis) every time I walk into eyesore cinema. And I must say, it makes me giggle every time.

    I think you and Szamanka were meant for each other. ;)

  9. "Sure, they thrust their basin-shaped trunks one pelvis at a time like everyone else, but their sexual jabs seem to have an apocalyptic urgency about them"

    Well done. It's like the ennui from Last Tango in Paris turned into apocalyptic nutbaggery. Or something.

    There's a female fronted German heavy metal band named "Breslau" who recorded one album and it is fucking great. It's all in German so I don't know what they are saying but who cares, it's rock n roll.

    Make sure you read the FATTY GIRL GOES TO NEW YORK review I just posted. The stills will blow your mind out your ass.

  10. I was just listening to some Donatella Rhettore (the star of Fatty Goes...) the other day.

  11. Writing an article on unreleased and unavailable movies and a search led me back to one of my favorite sites here when i was researching SZAMANKA...great well written piece full of larfs as usual...and LAMOUR BRAQUE is also on my list.

  12. Brilliant job YY, summing up the insanity of a Zulawski film with concrete details is no easy feat, but you make it look so. I loved the lines about everyone stopped taking their meds. God forbid these guys ever get their hands on meds. That's all my own review ever talks about, the shrooms, man!

    1. That's weird, I just acquired a copy of Andrzej 's L'Amour Braque, like, ten minutes ago.

      Anyway, thanks, E.K.