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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Hourglass Sanatorium (Restored Edition)


Starring: Jan Nowicki, Tadeusz Kondrat, Mieczysław Voit, Halina Kowalska and Gustaw Holoubek
Mr Bongo Films
RRP: £12.99
Certificate: 15
Available 19 March 2012

Joseph journeys to the sanatorium to see his dead/dying father. Arriving alone, he meets first the nurse and then the Doctor who explains that his father is both dead and not dead depending on your perspective. The revelation that the sanatorium is able to play with time sets Joseph on a journey of his own, through both his memories and dreams...

The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973 - 1 hr, 59 min, 01 sec) is a Polish film directed by Wojciech Jerzy Has, based on the works of Bruno Schulz. Schulz only produced a small, but important number of works, before being killed by the Nazis.

Hourglass plays with both time and space, mostly and often only connected by its visual style. All around Joseph are icons of time and decay, from the obvious dilapidation of the sanatorium, to the cobwebs which decorate much of the area. This playing with time extends to the film's structure. When we first meet Joseph (Jan Nowicki), he is an adult, on his way to the unnamed sanatorium, to visit his dead/dying father (Tadeusz Kondrat).

On arrival, he finds the entrance barred with a wall of rock, a motif which bookends the film's narrative. Joseph must circumvent the earth to enter and climbs back through the earth to finally achieve his escape. After meeting the doctor, he hears a dog howl and through a window watches himself arrive for the first time, he also spies a young man, Rudolph (Filip Zylber), owner of a stamp collection which is used as a link to the stories within the main story.

Time being a meaningless construct means that the story will move back and forth, the transitions are seamless and it is often some time before the audience is aware that they might be watching something from the past. Joseph never changes and only his behaviour gives an indication that we have shifted the time frame. The two narrative threads, Joseph in the sanatorium, Joseph with Rudolf, not only stand side by side, but also intertwine to provide a unique viewing experience.

The film requires to be experienced, as description is often found wanting when trying to explain the narrative. Visually it looks like Terry Gilliam gone mad, with every scene richly dressed, even the film's clutter is of interest. The only other linking thread through the film is the reappearance of the blind train conductor, who at times appear to have some inkling what is happening to Joseph. Whether he represents destiny or death, I leave that up to the individual’s personal predilection.

Given the age of the film, it looks only a little soft, but very acceptable, with no obvious print damage. The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 16:9 and a Polish audio track with burned in English subtitles. The disc contains no extras, above the choice of chapters, which is a real shame as a commentary would have made the film more assessable to a wider audience.

This is not going to be an easy film to watch, but relax into its strange world and it provides a rewarding experience.


Charles Packer

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