Saturday, 4 July 2009

REKOPIS ZNALEZIONY W SARAGOSSIE/ The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

During the Napoleonic Wars in Spain a French officer is captured but not before he discovers a strange book. With the help of one of his captors he begins to read the book which it turns out tells the story of his captor's grandfather. What follows is a strange tale of ghosts, mysterious women, haunted inns, cabalists, castles, brigands and inquisitors. I can only imagine that this delightful film was a big influence on director Terry Gilliam for it effortlessly conjures up the sort of magical world that Gilliam strained at in BARON MUNCHAUSEN and THE BROTHERS GRIMM. It seems that the film was greatly admired by both Jerry Garcia and the great Luis Bunuel (at times it reminds one of the work of both Bunuel and his friend Salvador Dali). The film is in two parts (this is the full 3hr version not the two hour version that was in circulation in America. The first part takes as into the strange gothic world mentioned above (the whole story could be turned into a tale of vampires with only the slightest of effort) while part two starts with out hero being taken to the castle of a sinister cabalist. I had a slight problem with the second half and found it outstayed its welcome (which is probably why a shorter version was in circulation), perhaps because the magic of the first half is replaced by a plot which takes us away from the promise of the sinister cabalist and his castle into a tale of romance and marital deception which seems more like a sequel to THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. It is mildly amusing but simply too long and it is a relief when, for the climax, we are whisked back to the demonic world of the first half of the film. The structure of the film (which I assume comes from the original novel by Jan Potocki) is fascinating - virtually every major character in the films begins to tell his own story which we then see, so the film is stories within stories within stories - all of which adds to the surrealist nature of the work. Directed by Wojcrech Has, the films stars the famous Polish actor Zbigniew Cybulski who had made such a dramatic impact on the film world as the star of Andrzej Wadja's ASHES AND DIAMONDS. Two years after appearing in THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT Cybulski would die tragically after slipping and falling beneath the wheels of a train he was running to catch. Despite my minor qualms about the second half this is a wonderful and fascinating movie. Rating ****

1 comment:

Cerpts said...

OK, you had me at "strange gothic world". Anything that can be described using the words "strange gothic world" is alright by me, buddy boy!!! How can I have never even HEARD of this film?!? Not even the truncated version available in America. I too will probably start wriggling in my chair during the non-gothic romance stuff but the other 2/3rds of the movie sounds like it would make it all worthwhile.