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The visual beauty and complexity of The Hour-Glass Sanatorium is staggering
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.