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52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Saragossa see it
Influenced perhaps by such works as The Canterbury Tales, Don Quixote, and The Arabian Nights, 'The Manuscript Found In Saragossa' is seen as one of the monuments of 19th century European literary culture. In recent years arguably it has influenced such writers as John Barth and Robert Irwin (The Arabian Nightmare for instance). A baroque work, full of stories, of stories...
Published on 26 Jun 2008 by Richard Bowden

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11 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Saragossa Manuscript
I first saw this film in a small London cinema in 1968, when I was a student. I rated the film then as a masterpiece, the best film I had ever seen. I went to see it three times. I continued to remember it with affection ever since.

Having now seen the DVD, 41 years after my first viewing, I am completely baffled. I do not remember the intrusive electronic...
Published on 30 Jun 2009 by Mr. Richard G. Chambers


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52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Saragossa see it, 26 Jun 2008
Influenced perhaps by such works as The Canterbury Tales, Don Quixote, and The Arabian Nights, 'The Manuscript Found In Saragossa' is seen as one of the monuments of 19th century European literary culture. In recent years arguably it has influenced such writers as John Barth and Robert Irwin (The Arabian Nightmare for instance). A baroque work, full of stories, of stories within stories, and again stories within stories within stories, featuring gypsies, Moors, scientists, occultists, lesbian princesses, the spirits of hanged men, the Wandering Jew and etc, with characters interchanging and reappearing in different guises, Potocki's book was never going to be an easy translation to screen.

The task was taken up in 1965 by director Wojciech Has and writer Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, and the results in his original cut ran to over three hours. Seen today, and belatedly issued in the UK, The Saragossa Manuscript is a remarkable discovery, one that any serious cinephile should experience at least once.

The story concerns one Alphonse von Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski - an actor more familiar to some perhaps from Wadja's films like Ashes And Diamonds) and his attempts to travel through the Sierra Morena to Madrid in the 18th century: a milieu redolent, at first, of the dashing bawdry of Tom Jones but which soon blazes a complex metaphysical path of its own. His story is found by a Belgian officer in the embattled Spanish town of Saragossa, in the form of a manuscript with alluring pictures, left in an abandoned house. Von Worden, it turns out was this discoverer's grandfather, it's his thwarted attempts at making progress, and the confusing diversions which interrupt the way, as well as their final effects upon him, that make up the protracted story which follows.

The Saragossa Manuscript falls into to two parts, set over five days, both of which include von Worden (the second half less so) who is frequently just as disorientated as the viewer as the narrative unfolds. The first part centres largely around a haunted inn, where von Worden is seduced by a pair of alluring Moorish princesses, confronted by the demonic ghosts of hanged men, lectured by a hermit and his Igor-like assistant, captured outside by the Inquisition and so on... usually incidents concluding with our unlucky hero disappointed, left to awake next morning chastened but still unlearned at the foot of the gallows.

One of the most interesting things about the film is that, although days are shown passing in regular fashion, von Worden's experiences blur and conflate time into one disorientating experience, so that the passing of hours eventually has no meaning. Instead the audience is confronted with a circular narrative and narratives therein, unfolding like a series of repeatedly opened Russian dolls. How transient life and ambition can be we realise; and how little we really understand about the world we are in, ultimately presented here as a mirror of deception, rather than a veil of truth.

Action in the slightly longer part two settles down a suspiciously cabalistic manor and a vaguely Faustian sanctum, which shortly accommodates story telling gypsies, perhaps those after all to whom the incompetent Inquisition seen earlier ought be better directed. The events told here are more related to love and honour than before, being largely recollections of events in Madrid, but which reach new convolutions as each new character in a yarn has a further account to add to the already swelling narrative flow. Clearly to be seen in the light of the themes of sic transit gloria of the first part, the semi-farcical love trysts of part two seem less weighty and morally significant, although by the end of the film its clear that the effects upon the individual of a final connectiveness cannot be avoided.

As suggested above, The Saragossa Manuscript suggests a lot and at length about what's real and which is a dream, and then of taking life as a necessary mixture of both. The transience of human concerns, and an ultimate, underlying interconnnectedness calls into account the foundations of human reason. Whether or not such topics are given justice, even in the full three hours of screen time, and in a narrative some have seen as more confusing than deeply profound is another matter. As some critics have noticed, there's a sardonic air to Has' movie which detracts from the seriousness of it all, and which allows the film's creators a detachment from their subject matter.

Such a wholly modern interjection of tone is distinct from the original. Cybulski's hero is a man who rarely, if ever, learns the lessons he is so grievously taught, even while they are repeated to him in different ways. This while the semi-farcical, if complicated, love interests of the second part generally reflect a bawdy ignorance of greater matters, rather than insisting upon their inevitable presence. (Interestingly, having said that, this adaptation actually finishes on a darker note than the novel, where von Worden is rewarded at the end, presumably having been successfully initiated into life's mysteries).

But one can see why the film continues to attract admirers; shot in widescreen black and white, frequently making use of a memorably stone-broken, skull-littered, undulating landscape (the uncertain geographies of which echo the manifest internal confusions of von Worden) with bleached bone-coloured rocks, claustrophobic inns and the litter of the charnel house, the first half in particular is especially striking. The director also favours slow tracking movements through his cluttered landscapes. Perhaps these suggest the journey of an objective observer, who eventually hopes to cut through complexity to a revelation, just as the camera crawls through visual confusion to find its final, explicable, subject.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, amazing & addictive!!!, 4 Sep 2008
By 
M. Gasior "Moryc Beniowski" (Tarnowskie Góry, Polska) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
It's very hard to write something constructive after such a great review like Richard Bowden's. I won't go into any details then, I will simply state you will love this movie from the first sight. You will be shocked, amazed and astonished and I guarantee you won't be able to stop thinking about it for a couple of days.
That's very unusual movie, I think it's still very progressive even after 44 years of it's existence, Penderecki's soundtrack gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it.
Well, I think I have seen this movie about 100 times and I am 33, means that I will have a chance to watch it at least another 200 before I die. And that makes me so happy...
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a sophisticated film brimming with mystical and occult elements, 15 Aug 2009
By 
Richard J. Brzostek (New England, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
People have loved storytelling since the beginning of time. Stories that captivate us, stories that give us chills, stories that excite us, and stories that make us think are all great, but some stories do all of these such as The Saragossa Manuscript (Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie). The Saragossa Manuscript is quite possibly one of the best Polish films ever made and is one of my favorites. Based on the novel written by Jan Potocki, this classic Polish movie directed by Wojciech Has is not straightforward, but rather resembles a complicated tapestry.

During the Napoleonic wars in Spain, two soldiers from opposing sides become fascinated by the same object. A French officer finds a manuscript on the second floor of a tavern, but is soon captured by the Spanish. The Spaniard seeing the importance of the tome translates it to the Frenchman who is unable to read the book as it is written in Spanish. The book describes the adventures of one of the Spaniard's ancestors, Alfonse Van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski). Humorously, when the Spanish troops tell their commander "we are being surrounded" he only tells them "close the door, you are letting in a draft."

Alfonse Van Worden is trying to pass the Sierra Morena Mountains of Spain in the 18th century on his way to Madrid. But his passage is no simple task, as ghosts, gypsies and inquisitors complicate his voyage. At the inn cared for by people too afraid to spend the night there themselves, Van Worden is taken to a basement by a mysterious woman. He meets two beautiful Moorish princesses that make him drink from a chalice made from a human skull. He wakes up on the hillside near two hanging men with many skulls strewn about the ground.

When Van Worden wakes up, he makes his best effort to continue to Madrid, but ends up meeting a number of people and is always delayed. The people he meets tell him their story, and the people in the story tell their story also. Like a nesting egg, the movie becomes a story in a story in a story. The stories interlink and overlap, each filling us in with details the others where not aware of. While it nearly resembles a horror with creepy ghosts and ghouls, the story is also amusing and funny with curious tales of exploits and adventures. The Saragossa Manuscript also has en erotic side with gorgeous women at every turn. While parts of the story resemble a horror, the rest is like a romance or even a comedy. The Saragossa Manuscript is a sophisticated film brimming with mystical and occult elements.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a film!, 20 Oct 2008
By 
This film is astounding. I thouroughly enjoyed it and could watch it again and again. Wojciech Has has done it yet again and puts him for me personaly among my top three art house directors of all time. Simply the depiction of a warped timeline and surreal, gloriously shot, images make this film a feast for the eyes not to be missed. Highly recomended.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bewitching, 30 April 2008
By 
Room For A View - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
I discovered this film whilst reading Bunuel's memoirs (My Last Sigh). For the first 20 minutes or so Has' work seemed disjointed, the acting was not convincing and the cinematography appeared to be mediocre to say the least. Then the lead (a Napoleonic cavalry officer) ends up in a strange inn and is invited to share the 'delights' of two beauitiful and exotic women who he is somehow related to! However before the fun begins our hero has a drink from a skull goblet. Cut to a scene of rotting corpses, gibbet and sore head. What's going on? Slowly but surely a sequence of events and chance encounters leads to a colourful exploration of cabbalistic traditions, surreal moments, parched landscapes and humorous exploits. I felt as if I had drunk a magical potion as the narrative wraps around the viewer with a compelling ease. I suggest watching this film during a thunderstorm!!!! Thanks Bunuel.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Lynch Fans and Beyond, 16 May 2008
By 
J. Anderson-Hanney (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
If you love Lynch you must see this film! It's a dizzying and epic surrealist adventure with delightful comic twists- imagine Mulholland Drive meets Groundhog Day.

A strange film born of strange times in Poland, there is just too much to say about this film here but search for The Saragossa Manuscript Info to understand why this film has a host of influential advocates: David Lynch, Martin Scosese and Francis Ford Coppola amongst them.

As wonderfully complex and intoxicating as it is important historically.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a sophisticated film brimming with mystical and occult elements, 28 Feb 2009
By 
Richard J. Brzostek (New England, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
People have loved storytelling since the beginning of time. Stories that captivate us, stories that give us chills, stories that excite us, and stories that make us think are all great, but some stories do all of these such as The Saragossa Manuscript (Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie). The Saragossa Manuscript is quite possibly one of the best Polish films ever made and is one of my favorites. Based on the novel written by Jan Potocki, this classic Polish movie directed by Wojciech Has is not straightforward, but rather resembles a complicated tapestry.

During the Napoleonic wars in Spain, two soldiers from opposing sides become fascinated by the same object. A French officer finds a manuscript on the second floor of a tavern, but the town is soon captured by the Spanish. The Spaniard, seeing the importance of the tome, translates it to the Frenchman who is unable to read the book as it is written in Spanish. The book describes the adventures of one of the Spaniard's ancestors, Alfonse Van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski). Humorously, when the Spanish troops tell their commander "we are being surrounded" he only tells them "close the door, you are letting in a draft."

Alfonse Van Worden is trying to pass the Sierra Morena Mountains of Spain in the 18th century on his way to Madrid. But his passage is no simple task, as ghosts, gypsies and inquisitors complicate his voyage. On the hillside is an inn that is cared for by people who too afraid to spend the night there themselves. Van Worden disregards the superstitious people, only to be taken to a basement of the inn by a mysterious woman. In the basement, he meets two beautiful Moorish princesses that want him to be their husband, but quickly make him drink from a chalice made from a human skull. He wakes up on the hillside some distance from the inn near two hanging men with many skulls strewn about the ground.

When Van Worden wakes up, he makes his best effort to continue to Madrid, but ends up meeting a number of people and is always delayed. The people he meets tell him their story, and the people in the story tell their story also. Like a nesting egg, the movie becomes a story in a story in a story. The stories interlink and overlap, each filling us in with details the others where not aware of. While it nearly resembles a horror with creepy ghosts and ghouls, the story is also amusing and funny with curious tales of exploits and adventures. The Saragossa Manuscript also has en erotic side with gorgeous women at every turn. While parts of the story resemble a horror, the rest is like a romance or even a comedy. The Saragossa Manuscript is a sophisticated film brimming with mystical and occult elements.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, 27 Oct 2008
By 
Andy K (Leicester United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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A truly weird and wonderful film. It would be impossible in any review to get across what makes it so good. But believe me, and all the other reviewers of this film, you will find watching this film a memorable and worthwhile experience.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Return to Saragossa, 23 Mar 2009
By 
AD Macnabb "Tony Macnabb" (Norfolk, UK) - See all my reviews
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Three hours of labyrinthine picaresque epic that caused much beard stroking among art house fans when it was first released in the 60's. I'm stroking mine right now, and pondering how a film this obscure and undramatic still manages to engross me.

The Price,
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Involution, 28 July 2007
By 
S. Eaton - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Surprisingly effective film version of Potocki's novel. The story, such as it is, consists of many "nested" stories narrated by characters in the previous story. The overall effect is either confused or hallucinatory depending on your point of view - Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Daed clearly took the later view as it was apparently his favourite film.
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