Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Saragossa Manuscript

There are films that do not lose their magnetism as the years go by. They are still watched with growing interest. I can add The Saragossa Manuscript by Wojciech J. Has from 1965 to this list of timeless classics . Recent digitally-renewed copy makes the adventures of the main character even more improbable and mysterious.

The film is an adaptation of a vast book written by count Jan Potocki, whose life was the source of research and speculation. Potocki lived at the turn of VIII and XIXth century and he implemented the philosophy of Enlightement, religion, kabbalah, magic and science in his epic work . The Manusript is a frame-tale novel, where one story enroots in another one, and the second one enroots in a third. The plot takes place during 66 days and the reader familiarises himself with 33 stories told by different characters. Alfons van Worden, captain of the Walloon Guard is the link between all the tales.

The Saragossa Manuscript is a very challenging work for a film creator, but Has made a film which still intrigues. He decided to transfer 10 stories included in the original book and to unify their main characters. However critics also had something to say. Has was accused of diminishing the book's philosophy. The choice of the actor in the leading role also spurred some controversies. Another issue discussed by the reviewers was using Beethoven's Ode to Joy, which was composed 10 years after publishing the book.

In the 1960's the voice of critics might have some validity, but nowadays who would imagine a different actor in the leading role than Zbyszek Cybulski? While listening to philosophical reasoning of Uzeda (Adam Pawlikowski) or the mathematician Velasquez (Gustaw Holoubek) I get the impression that Has did his best to transfer the book's philosophy in a nutshell. The director created a universal story about Good and Evil, where magic entwines with everyday life. The Saragossa Manuscript is a milestone of  Polish cinema and an obligatory position for every filmgoer.

Original title: Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie
Director: Wojciech J. Has
Cast: Zbigniew Cybulski, Gustaw Holoubek
Polish premiere: 09.02.1965

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