The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

Article #1600 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-1-2005
Posting Date: 12-29-2005
Directed by Wojciech Has
Featuring Zbigniew Cybulski, Iga Cembrzynska, Elzbieta Czyzewska

A captain of the Walloon guard finds himself dealing with ghosts in a haunted inn, a hermit and his possessed friend, the Inquisition, executed criminals, and a gypsy with a story to tell.

Based on an eccentric novel by eighteenth century nobleman and adventurer Jan Potocki, this movie is equally eccentric. It’s also complex, convoluted, bewildering, infuriating and possibly brilliant. The story falls roughly into two parts; in the first, our hero finds himself repeatedly (either physically or by proxy) encountering sensual ghosts which urge him to drink from a skull and then finding himself waking under the gallows. The second part of the movie consists largely of a story told by a gypsy, but the story has a story in it, and that story has a story in it, etc. etc.; ultimately it loops back to the ghosts at the haunted inn and then back to the gallows. Oddly enough, it all seems to hang together, and I’m really interested in reading the novel it is based on. Still, the overall effect of the movie is that of being told an enormously long joke (the movie is 182 minutes) with a groaner punch line; the only thing missing is the punch line, though from what I read, the novel ends quite differently from the ambiguous ending here. This movie was admired by Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Jerry Garcia. Me, I’m still sorting through it myself, but I must admit it intrigued me.


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