Having fought during the Napoleonic Wars, an officer takes refuge in a destroyed house. While there he finds a manuscript filled with images. One that is striking is that of two men hanging. These is accompained by a picture of two women in bed. The images are engaging but the text is in another language. His armies retreat from positions and an enemy officer appears to arrest him. Instead the text consumes his attention and even after both are left stranded in the building they cant stop reading. When the officer tells him that the story related in the work is that of his own relative and great gran father, Alfonso van Worden. His life is filled with adventures, dreams and strange stories. These relate to the same places and his own history. They also relate to ghosts, hauntings and the very darkest of human actions.
Lodz located in the centre of Poland is interesting to me for two reasons. The first is that its name translates to mean ‘boat’. The second is that it was the hub for Poland’s greatest film school, The National Film School. Names like Roman Polanski, Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Zbigniew Rybczyński are but a few of the greats that walked through its door. As did the director of The Saragossa Manuscript, Wojciech Has. Based on a famous novel by a Polish count called Jan Potocki, this would have been a gargantuan task to translate to the screen but for a graduate of such an establishment, it was met. Has achieves this feat with a sublime use of the surreal, supernatural and darkly comic. Performances are unbalanced intentionally to distabilise the viewer. Narrators are untrustworthy and unpredictable. This is only one side of the playfulness. He also has the film shot in beautiful black and white (The Blu Ray does this justice and is a marvel to watch!). Great cinematography allows for the eye to capture detail and drink in the visual hues. Framing becomes intrinsic to the defining of the films force due to this, its space.
Placing the film action in the same space and then having the interwoven stories (often told flashback within a flashback) meet in the middle, makes events blur. The strange repetition feels darkly comic and despairing all at once. I love the use of the cave as a foriegn and exotic world. It underlines the abstract and unbalanced nature of transition from place to place within the film. The use of the hanging men as a motif is absurdly funny and is so well framed and executed as to be worthy of homage (where is my camera!). When you see a film like this it makes you wonder why it is not easier to see such great things. This is truly worth time and contemplation. It also brings to the fore a question I have on the Autuer theory. The greatest portion of the whole work is the director. It seems that the tones and themes of the original text have worked in this. Intertextuality has been allowed to flow but also has been given a flare. The work has become anew thing from an older source. So should he alone be given this credit?
If you love film, surreal or otherwise…. you know what to do…