The Saragossa Manuscript parts 1 and 2 (1965)

“We are like blind men lost in the streets of a big city. The streets lead to a goal, but we often return to the same places to get to where we want to be. I can see a few little streets here which, as it is now, are going nowhere. New combinations have to be arranged, then the whole will be clear, because one man cannot invent something that another cannot solve.”

‘The Saragossa Manuscript’, directed by Wojciech Has in 1965, is a Polish historical adventure movie set in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. It’s a baroque, labyrinthine fantasy, lushly filmed and rich with macabre black comedy and farcical performances. A soldier finds an old book in an abandoned inn. He’s apprehended by a soldier from the other side who becomes absorbed by the book and tells the story of his father. The film flashes-back to the father’s story which, in turn, includes another flashback to another story. In this way, a spiralling sequence of stories within stories, Has’s film tells a series of short vignettes with common these and interlacing incidents. The film is packed with occult imagery, references to the tarot, nods to Gothic literature and art. Watching it is a little like navigating over quicksand, you never know when you might being to start sinking, but this bewildering narrative structure also gives the film itself an element of mysticism. It’s a film, like ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ that defies interpretation by making itself enigmatically available to all interpretation. Unlike ‘Marienbad’, however, ‘The Saragossa Manuscript’ is a riot of pleasing set pieces, uncanny images and genuinely amusing jokes. In style it’s Lynch and Kubrick, a forerunner of ‘Barry Lyndon’, in content it’s closer to Richard Lester’s ‘Musketeer’ movies.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s long and in two parts but worth watching as one film. In a double bill with something weird and unfathomable. Maybe ‘Mulholland Dr.’

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