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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Saragossa Manuscript (Restored Edition)


Starring: Zbigniew Cybulski, Iga Cembrzyńska and Joanna Jędryka
Mr Bongo Films
RRP: £12.99
Certificate: 15
Available 19 March 2012

During the Napoleonic wars two officers from the opposing sides find themselves in an inn in possession of a large book, a book which looks to have been written by one of their ancestors. The book recounts the strange tale of Alfonso van Worden and his various journeys...

The Saragossa Manuscript (B&W. 1965 - 2 hr, 55 min, 32 sec) is a Polish fantasy film, directed by Wojciech Has from a Tadeusz Kwiatkowski script. The film was moderately popular in the eastern bloc until it was discovered and championed by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, who paid for the film's restoration, which is the version presented here, in its near uncut version.

Having sat through The Hourglass Sanatorium, I didn’t think that Has could have created a more complex narrative, boy was I wrong. On the surface the story tells of Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski) waking up at various points, next to a gallows to engage with two women, who are at points his cousins, part of a story being told to him by various characters he meets or spoken about by gypsies he meets. The film also stars Iga Cembrzyńska (Princess Emina) and Joanna Jędryka (Zibelda).

Like his later work, Has mixes and intertwines the various narratives of the film. Small instances in the first half of the film only become clearer, I wouldn’t go as far as to say clear, in the second half. The experience is not unlike trying to watch Baron Munchausen on acid. There is evidence of the same tropes in this film; the inclusion of eroticism, times and place being fluid entities and the nesting of stories one within another, sometimes to multiple levels.

The restored print is wonderfully sharp and the film is an example of cinema, as an art form, rather than film as entertainment. Not that there isn’t much to enjoy in the film, Has is playful, not only with structure, but also with the humour that his actors convey.

The film is presented in Polish with burned in, English subtitles. There are no extras on the disc above the ability to choose chapters.

The film won’t be to everybody’s taste. Its complexity requires multiple viewings to unravel all its secrets, but it is well worth a look if you’re serious about cinema.


Charles Packer

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