Wojciech J Has | Enter the phantasmagorical world of Poland’s master of the surreal

The Saragossa Manuscript (1964)Thieving gypsies, spectral princesses, sinister cabbalists and bloodthirsty inquisitors all feature in The Saragossa Manuscript, a superb 1965 supernatural adventure from famed Polish director Wojciech Has.

During the Napoleonic wars, an officer fighting in Spain takes refuge in a deserted inn where he finds a book recounting his grandfather’s spooky encounters 60 years ago. When Alfons, a captain in the Walloon guard, wakes up one day beside two corpses at the bottom of some gallows, he finds himself repeating the day over and over again following a series of misadventures involving two Moorish princesses – who may or may not be ghosts.

Based on Count Jan Potocki‘s enigmatic 18th-century Gothic novel – that’s been likened to the Arabian Nights and The Decameron – this black-and-white tale is a real treat for lovers of the supernatural and the bizarre. With its labyrinthine narrative fusing the gothic with the historic, and its masterful score, it’s no wonder this classic of Polish cinema has attracted a legion of famous fans – including the surrealist director Luis Buñuel, The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and British fantasy author Neil Gaiman.

The Saragossa Manuscript (1964)

Coming across like a 18th-century supernatural take on Groundhog Day, The Saragossa Manuscript is certainly a bewildering experience, and just as labyrinthine as Potocki’s 1814 novel, but stick it out and you’ll be surprised by what you find…


The Hourglass Sanitorium (1973)

The Hourglass Sanitorium (1973)Filmed in 1973, director Wojciech J Has’s The Hourglass Sanatorium is a atmospheric, hallucinatory affair adapted from the works of Bruno Schulz, widely regarded as Poland’s answer to Kafka.

In rural Eastern Europe, a young man called Joseph visits his dying grandfather at a crumbling sanatorium where time is relative. Here, guests have the opportunity to journey into the unconscious and reanimate the past for a set period. Wanting to make amends with his estranged father, Joseph’s symbolic journey manifests itself in a series of wild visual theatrics – all staged within the confines of the hospital.

In this dream state, linear narrative is fractured, which frustrates our hero as he awakens old memories. Even Joseph’s guide (a young boy who is probably his younger self) and his elusive, eccentric father seem incapable of providing him the answers that he seeks. But, as in real dreams, the true heart and soul of this metaphysical tale is the journey, not the getting there.

The Hourglass Sanitorium (1973)

If you crave films heaped in symbolism, like the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky or the Brothers Quay, then The Hourglass Sanatorium is a hugely rewarding experience. Granted it’s dense, but its evocative sets, inspiring visuals (that wouldn’t look out of place in a Terry Gilliam film) and Kafkaesque themes will leave you spellbound.



About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on April 18, 2015, in Avant Garde, Classic World Cinema, Cult classic, Must See, Must-See, World Cinema and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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