Sunday, January 2, 2011

Wojciech Has - Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie aka The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

In the Napoleonic wars, an officer finds an old book that relates his grandfather's story, Alfons van Worden, captain in the Walloon guard. A man of honor and courage, he seeks the shortest route through the Sierra Morena. At an inn, the Venta Quemada, he sups with two Islamic princesses. They call him their cousin and seduce him; he wakes beside corpses under a gallows. He meets a hermit priest and a goatherd; each tells his story; he wakes again by the gallows. He's rescued from the Inquisition, meets a cabalist and hears more stories within stories, usually of love. He returns to Venta Quemada, the women await with astonishing news.
- Summary written by {}

There comes a point late in Wojciech Has' teasingly labyrinthine three-hour film, "The Saragossa Manuscript," when so many phantasmagoric stories have sprouted out of one another in such rapid succession that the mind begins to reel.

Questions of who did what to whom and which adventures were charades invented by characters who revel in deceit, and which were not, begin to blur into a surreal comic vision of a world in which reality and fantasy are indistinguishable. Or at least they become so in the mind of the film's genially swashbuckling protagonist.

Adapted from an early-19th-century novel by the Polish author Jan Potocki, and set at the end of the Napoleonic era, the movie follows the travels of Capt. Alphonse van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski), a Belgian military officer who is making a cross-European trip to Madrid but keeps getting sidetracked.

The story begins in the heat of battle as Alphonse, who has fled to a cabin, is mysteriously attracted to a manuscript whose pictures are so compelling he barely notices when enemy soldiers arrive to arrest him.

When these soldiers become as entranced as Alphonse by the manuscript, especially by a drawing of two beautiful princesses, the film dissolves into an "Arabian Nights"-like journey in which Alphonse lives out the book's magical, picaresque adventures. They unfold as a series of dreams from which Alphonse periodically awakes to find himself wounded on a battlefield heaped with skulls beside a gallows on which two executed prisoners still hang.

Fleeing, he meets two sisters, the princesses Emina (Iga Cembrzynskza) and Zibelda (Joanna Jedryka), who subject him to a series of tests of his worthiness to marry them. These trials suggest a goofy, sprawling, all-purpose allegory so overstuffed with symbolism that it plays as a kind of epic spoof of the form.

If Alphonse's soldierly adventures on behalf of the princesses have the aura of satanic temptations, the voluptuous attractions thrown in his path appear to be a mishmash of Islamic and Christian imagery without a clear-cut moral agenda.

The film's central skein of interlocking tales focuses on a hermit priest, later revealed as a sheik (Kazierz Opalinksi), and his howling one-eyed assistant, Pacheco (Franciszek Pieczka), who at first seems to be possessed by demons but who may be faking. As Pacheco tells his life story, it spins off into a cycle of monologues with one character after another becoming the chief storyteller relating fantastic tales of sexual intrigue, skulduggery and Faustian bargaining.

The movie is really an extended jokey meditation on reality and illusion, in a self-mocking comic style that keeps emotion at arm's length.

Subs: Spanish/Français/English

no pass