The Hourglass Sanatorium

The Hourglass Sanatorium

Review by David Paul Hellings



“Set in the pre World War II era, a young man named Joseph (Jan Nowicki – “Tulips, Spirala”) visits a strange dilapidated sanatorium to see his dying father Jakob (Tadeusz Konrat –“Adventure in Marienstadt”, “Zawilosci Uczuc”). Upon arrival he finds a hospital crumbling into ruin, where time is slowed down in order to maintain his father’s life signs. Joseph must venture through the many rooms of the sanatorium, each filled with sinister worlds conjured from his memories, dreams and nightmares.

Wojciech Has’ cinematic universe of byzantine sets, hallucinatory images and galleries of grotesque characters is brought to life in his psychadelic masterpiece “The Hourglass Sanatorium”.

Adapted from a collection of short stories by Polish Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and funded by the Polish Arts Council, this beautifully remastered edition dispenses with traditional narrative, fashioning an audiovisual mosaic that blurs the line between reality and fantasy”.

– via Mr Bongo Films.


Polish director Wojciech Has’ (“The Saragossa Manuscript”) 1973 film “The Hourglass Sanatorium”, winner of the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize finally arrives on Blu ray and the wait was well worth it. Has’ sense of surrealism and images of fantasy and dreams created some of the most visually striking cinema of the 20th Century.

Has, unlike many of his Polish Film School contemporaries, chose not to opt for the route of political cinema, instead producing work about life’s outsiders who struggle to fit into a seemingly realistic world. Has’ cinema is one of the poetic, of symbolism and the surrealistic, a cinema that defies easy labelling and retains its own unique quality.

“The Hourglass Sanatorium” is classic Has with Josef (Jan Nowicki) journeying on a train full of curious characters, only to find even more of the same on his arrival at a sanatorium that appears completely removed from the world; a place of cobwebs and decay in which each room seems to be filled with dreams or nightmares. It is a place that appears as though it is simply falling apart, abandoned to its fate by a lack of control or anybody in charge or even caring (something the Polish authorities, at the time of the film’s release, expressed concern about in case it was a metaphor for conditions in the country, specifically the nation’s medical institutions). The film, itself, was only screened at Cannes because Has smuggled a print out of Poland.

Has creates a film of stunning originality in which encounters lead to adventures for Josef, who relives childhood memories on his journey of psychedelic discovery. It is a world in which a blind train conductor seems to be his guide throughout Josef’s dreams that reflect upon his childhood and beyond. It is the story of a character that finds himself in a place of isolation in which his mind will open to result in new encounters, thoughts and beliefs.

“The Hourglass Sanatorium” is visually stunning; a surrealist’s dream world that is a delight to watch and delight in. It is an opportunity to savour the work of a director with a personal vision that is rewarding and will stay with you. A trippy mindscape unlike any other, Has’ film is highly recommended and the new restored version looks sublime.

Title: The Hourglass Sanatorium

Release Date: 7th September 2015

Company: Mr Bongo Films

Cat No: MRBBLU004

Running Time: 119 mins

Certificate: 15 RRP: £12.99

Language: Polish with English subtitles

Special features: None.

This review originally appeared on SFFWorld:

Poster images:


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