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Foreign Film - Poland - The Saragossa Manuscript

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The Saragossa Manuscript
Directed by Wojciech Has
Polish with English subtitles
Poland 1965
Facets 2009
180 minute

Polish classic The Saragossa Manuscript is weird. How weird? It was Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia’s favorite film and he paid to have it restored and subtitled and we all know Jerry never, ever indulged in any hallucinogens. This foreign film is available again on DVD, this time from Facets. The Saragossa Manuscript seems to be one of those movies that blip in and out of availability so you might not want to wait too long. The print used for this foreign film DVD is generally excellent with a bit of artifacts from time to time.

It is basically impossible to explain this Matryoshka Russian doll movie. It begins rather comically during the Napoleonic wars. A soldier finds shelter in an abandoned building, finds a manuscript, and begins looking at the illustrations. Another soldier shows up and says the book is about his ancestor Alfonso. Flash back to the ancestor’s story which involves mysterious babes, potent potions, strange strangers, and images right out of the most surrealist painting you can think of. Flashback to the ancestor’s ancestor’s history. Escher himself would get lost in the various angles and points of view of The Saragossa Manuscript.

The version of The Saragossa Manuscript on this DVD is the original 3-hour version. 180 minutes is a lot in one sitting but this foreign film is a series of short bits so the pacing makes up for the time constraint.

This is a very strange movie indeed. Alfonzo keeps meeting two exotic sisters, drinks from a skull goblet, and passes out again. There are also many comic scenes in this Polish film, giving the whole thing a rather Quixotic feel.

It would not be wrong to thing of The Neverending Story here.

If you are a cinema student or connoisseur, The Saragossa Manuscript is certainly a heady experience.

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