Immediately after his priest brother hastily vacates his apartment, Michal (Boguslaw Linda), an anthropology professor is approached by an overly enthusiastic engineering student known only as “The Italian” (Iwona Petry) about renting the place. While showing her around the apartment Michal rapes her, although it eventually becomes consensual and the two begin a fierce sexual relationship. Michal and his anthropology team have just unearthed the preserved body of a 2,000 year old shaman, and Michal is determined to discover the cause of the shaman’s death. The deeper Michal goes into his research, the more and more intense his relationship with The Italian becomes and his world quickly becomes dominated by two obsessions, the mystery of the shaman and the equally mysterious Italian.
It would be very difficult to confuse Szamanka (“She-Shaman”) with the work of any other filmmaker as Szamanka is very much a 100% Zulawski experience, so much so it has led some to label the film as a self parody complete with manic performances and themes dealing with the spiritual and sexual, oftentimes combining the two. Like the majority of Zulawki’s films Szamanka refuses to be pigeonholed into one genre or another, running the gamut from demented psychosexual drama to surreal esoteric elements, so to speak, later on in the film that could be described at best as transgressive horror, and there are also moments in the film which are quite comedic in their absurdity. To those unfamiliar with Zulawski’s work the film will probably come across as incoherent madness but as any Zulawski fan will attest to, there is something much more going on, something profound, which goes back to Zulawski being an emotional filmmaker. Despite the odd behavior of his characters, Zulawski has an odd way of never alienating the audiences (the select audience Zulawski’s films “work” for that is) in fact the opposite is true which is especially the case with Szamanka. The further forward the film moves and the more bizarre Michal and The Italian become the more engaging they become. Of course along with the relationship between Michal and The Italian is relationship between Michal and the dead shaman and the way Zulawski effectively blends the two is brilliant especially as the film moves further into hallucinogenic territory.
|Andrzej Korzynski's amazing soundtrack which is included in|
Mondo Vision's box set of the film.
Even with the long list of previous eccentric Zulawski heroines that came before her, Iwona Petry in the role of The Italian is still one of the most unhinged and perplexing characters in Zulawski’s filmography. The most obvious comparison would be Isabelle Adjani’s Anna from Possession but the case could be made that The Italian also shares some similarities with Valerie Kaprisky’s Ethel from La Femme Publique. Petry was the perfect choice to play The Italian particularly because she was an unknown at the time, something which only fueled the already enigmatic Italian so wonderfully written by the films screenwriter Manuela Gretkowska. The Italian also happens to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the Zulawski canon and as the relationship between her and Michal progresses, her way of conducting herself actually becomes justified in a strange way. Of course the performance of Boguslaw Linda cannot be understated and he is equally brilliant in the role of Michal but ultimately this is really Petry’s show. Perhaps Michal and The Italian’s relationship is best expressed not by the actors themselves but by the films two reoccurring musical motives courtesy of longtime Zulawski collaborator Andrzej Korzynski, pounding, tribal-esque drums mixed with electric guitars for the sex scenes and tender strings reserved for the scenes involving the dead shaman. Its important to note that originally Zulawski had intended to use the strings for the sex scenes and the drums for the shaman until deciding it would have been inappropriate and the results speak for themselves.