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on 2 March 2009
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium (Sanatorum Pod Klepsydra) is an unusual film directed by Wojciech Has, which is based on a novel by Bruno Schultz. The story begins with Józef (Jan Nowicki) arriving by train to a sanatorium to visit his father. The sanatorium is immense and in disrepair, with vegetation growing out of the floor in nearly every room and hallway. There is a strangeness to this place as time seems to stand still here. Józef finds only a nurse and a doctor tending to all the sleeping patients there.

Józef is told he can go to sleep and rest, bringing us into the strange world of his dreams, which are like a hodgepodge of his past and fantasies. The Hour-Glass Sanatorium captures the essence of dreaming in which at any given moment the scene changes and completely bizarre happenings are taken to be normal. Wandering the dizzy maze of Józef's past leaves us grasping for meaning. The edges of reality are blurred and the nature of most of the events is truly comparable to hallucinations.

Although there is sure to be a lot of symbolism that one can find mixed into the story, one icon that is hard to overlook is the birds. There are birds throughout the movie, perhaps because Józef's father has an affinity to them. Furthermore, another inescapable element is that many of the characters in the film are Jewish and has a lot of imagery related to Judaism. The dress (or undress) of the women in the movie also deserves comment. Many of the women wear loose gowns that periodically expose their bosom or are not dressed at all, but not much notice is given to this fact.

The visual beauty and complexity of The Hour-Glass Sanatorium is staggering. However, I don't think everyone will appreciate it, as a seemingly nonsensical film about strange dreams is not for everyone. Viewers who have an appreciation for unusual and intense cinema, such as Andrej Zulawski's work, are likely to find this surrealistic horror to be fulfilling.
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Couched with hidden meanings. Beaming an echoing beauty, running along with a black Gothic horror depiction, it heads to the ovens. Seemingly driven with a constant desire to make human connections across the partition of death, the film is about transcience.

We meet our protagonist riding along a train of death, the bodies not as compressed as 1942, but they lie contorted. Eventually our hero is dropped off at the sanatorium by the blind conductor, who appears achingly akin to someone. The entry point to the asylum.

A Jewish film transcending ethnicity, illustrating over arching themes of both finding a meaning to life and death. As a result we are led through a series of composed framed vignettes, where flowing commonalities emerge; Jewish life depicted in the ghetto, finding a meaning to continue to survive, women with bared breasts who offer their sensuality, along with the ever-present singing birds, pounded together by the perpetual pressures of history.

All set in the coloured decaying grandeur of Miss Faversham's Gothic, dilapidated chic of a crumbling lifestyle; welcome to the sanatorium. Climbing through an Alice in Wonderland world, where the smell of an impending blood soaked holocaust pervades the air; old people emerge with their last stint lifestyles before they go into ashes. The train at the beginning brings the conductor into the scene- leading the people to their eventual resting places. Appearing both at the beginning and the end, he makes himself understood as the marker of distinct phases.

The narrative concerns father-son love and an estranged relation with a mother, captured within the various time warps, as it bends and melds into other stranger dimensions, following the beautiful camera work and meticulous sets, all bringing the heart hammering flow of dreams, quietly and suddenly stopped...then to start ticking away within the beat of the film. As near to a dreamworld as it could be... the spiraling surrealist drifts into the subconscious and out again. Dreams are rendered into film.

Turn the soundtrack up when watching, as this brings out another hidden dimension within its murk ridden depths, an avant garde collation of moaning, birds and proto industrial sounds to deliver further gravitas.

Whereas Lynch lost a plot in Inland Empire this pulls the red velvet blinds aside to show how it should really have been depicted- built behind the Iron Curtain in 1973, highlighting another sensibility; breathing within the seething humdrum of outwardly communistic lives - hiding, crouching but ready to leap is a deep well of emotional literacy.

This is one of the greatest counter cultural films of modernity, sitting next to El Topo and anything Jodorowsky assembled. It needs a wider release into the world.
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on 9 January 2009
Just to point out that the original book here was by Bruno Schulz - rather than Jan Potocki (who wrote "The Manuscript Found in Saragossa", which has likewise been made into a film by Has).

The book, often titled "Sanatorium Under The Sign of The Hourglass" in English translation, is truly exceptional, and well worth tracking down.
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on 9 June 2012
"Hidden" in the sense that it isn't widely talked about but it really should.

Very digestible, creative, beauty and darkness - just a sublime film.

I wish more people had seen it; it deserves it.

If you're searching for a linear but mysterious mosaic of colour, cinematography and story that crosses the logical boundaries of time and reality... buy this.
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on 8 May 2014
Rarely is the funding put up to realise a film as strange as this - gets as close as any I have seen to the atmosphere of a dream. Also makes sense though, as a jumble of memories and feelings getting processed through the odd logic that dreams generate.
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on 26 November 2008
Enthralling in its poetic language, captivating in its dark and somber mood, this film is for me one of those magically stylized counterculture classics that the world of cinema would be at a loss not to have.
Wojciech Jerzy Has' adoption of the original book by the polish writer Count Jan Potocki, is a dramatic wonderland journey through a dream like landscape and romance.
I found this wonderful film haunting in its cinematography and dark lighting which is backed perfectly by the eerie soundtrack by Krzyszt Penderecki, who also wrote the score for the The Shining.
A definite good choice for those who dare for something refreshingly different, totally captivating and entirely beautiful.
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on 16 December 2009
This film is a wonderfully crafted piece of art, and embodies the most strikingly beautiful and crafted stage and set work I have seen captured on film. I urge all true film fans to watch this work and others by a truly gifted director.
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on 26 May 2015
Loved it, a bold beginning, crazy parts all through, some are sad, the end is quietly mystic. Has is a director I hope gets released more. Looking forward to his more famous film as soon as I get it in the mail.
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on 22 August 2014
Classic of Polish cinema, shame accompanying book isn't in English but blu ray itself is well worth the time.
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on 7 October 2009
I've been looking for this for a long time, being a fan of Polish cinema of many genres at last I've seen it!
If you like dreamlike but hard edged imagery and a fascinating tale have a look. A long but unique work.
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