The Saragossa Manuscript: Restored Edition (Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie) (1973)
Review by David Paul Hellings
“Fully and recently restored version of Has’s psychedelic epic.
During Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, two soldiers discover a strange manuscript at an Inn. The book chronicles the adventures of Alfonso van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski – Ashes and Diamonds). Alfonso’s passage through the dangerous Sierra Morena mountains is repeatedly interrupted by seemingly random encounters with an assortment of larger than life.
Described by world famous filmmakers Luis Bunuel and David Lynch, and rock star Jerry Garcia as their favourite film, legendary Polish director Wojciech Has’ psychedelic epic The Saragossa Manuscript is a mysteriously magical and sometimes disturbing 1960s cult classic like no other. Adapted from the highly esteemed explorer Jan Potocki’s magnum opus, The Saragossa Manuscript encompasses a whole new supernatural world. During Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, two soldiers of opposing sides discover a strange manuscript at an Inn. Spanning centuries and nations the magical text chronicles the adventures of Alfonso van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski – Ashes and Diamonds) and follows a rich slew of journeys from the humorous to the horrifying, to the chilling final revelations. Alternatively frightening and comical in its mind-bending exploration of human nature The Saragossa Manuscript beautifully presents Has’ intricate approach to storytelling”.
-via Mr. Bongo Films.
Reminiscent at times of Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” and Cocteau’s “Orphée”, Wojciech Has’ superb 182min epic “The Saragossa Manuscript” arrives in a restored version on Blu ray and audiences can finally see why directors such as Buñuel, Lynch, and Scorsese rated it so highly.
Has’ supernatural fantasy is a film that, along with his also re-released classic “The Hourglass Sanatorium”, works with stories within stories, time within time, and the surrealistic approach that Has was famed for. Arrogant aristocrat Alfonso van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski) stumbles into a world of ghosts, witches, and the Spanish Inquisition, seemingly unable to escape from a recurring timeframe that should please fans of films such as Christopher Nolan’s “Memento”. Is van Worden doomed to be trapped within the supernatural world he has inadvertently come across or was this his destiny all along, predetermined by the manuscript of the title?
Based on Polish author Count Jan Potocki’s novel “The Manuscript Found in Saragossa”, “The Saragossa Manuscript” is an excellent time frame story clever in its telling as events come full circle, predictions come to pass, characters recur in a series of repeats of their previous appearances and time, itself, seems to be an inescapable loop as our hapless protagonist finds himself back at an eternal square one no matter how many times he tries to escape.
Characters appear and take over the narrative, telling strange stories to van Worden, providing often a film within a film within a film. Gypsies, conmen, aristocrats, princesses, witches, sorcerers, philanderers, all have stories to tell in Has’ wonderful film.
In recent years, there has been a welcome emergence of great works from the golden age of Polish and Czech cinema. “The Saragossa Manuscript” was amongst the “Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema” series of restored classic Polish films which opened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York in February 2014 and then toured the US and Canada.
In relation this restored edition, distributor Mr. Bongo Films have spoken about how they came upon Has’ epic:
“Whilst looking for unreleased classics I wandered into an independent DVD shop in Notting Hill Gate. I struck up a conversation with the guy behind the counter, and it was in that conversation that he told me about ‘The Saragossa Manuscript’. I had never heard of it before, but I bought a copy and loved it. The copy I had was the restoration that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola had funded. I had already worked with Scorsese on ’Soy Cuba’ so I contacted him about getting involved. They put me on to the original rights holders and we discussed opportunities. The films of Has are tricky to get hold of as they were originally released in the 60’s during the Communist Poland era. There was only one film company at the time and they owned the rights – Filmowe / KADR. I manage to secure a license for the films through their sales agent in France. They sent a copy of the 35mm print from Filmowe and we planned our release. To launch ’Saragossa Manuscript’ with the fanfare it deserved we collaborated with the BFI for a one-off spectacular screening.
We had a live performance of the film’s score, and this was performed by ’The Recording Angel Ensemble’. The instrumentation was incredible and included 2 Edison phonographs inc. 6 ft Brass Concert Horn playing wax cylinders (own recordings) / 2 Horn Gramophones & assorted wind-up portables playing shellac & amp; self-recorded acetate discs / Turntables playing vinyl & amp; self-recorded acetate discs / Live electronics, laptop, synthesiser, loudspeakers / Stroh stringed instruments (historic horned mechanical-acoustic instruments from the early 1900s) forming a string trio & a string quartet (with the inclusion of A. Kolkowski on Stroh violin) / Human Voice / Spanish Guitar.
Quite an ensemble! It was pulled together by Merek and was both a hugely expansive and expensive production. The original score is famous in its own right, but this was our take on it”.
The restored Blu ray version of “The Saragossa Manuscript” is beautiful, allowing home audiences to see for themselves Has’ classic. The film is a joy, a fantastic odyssey of the supernatural that must have influenced filmmakers such as Terry Gilliam. An unmissable, unforgettable, delight. Highly recommended.
Blu ray £10.99
No special features
This review originally appeared on SFFWorld: