The Saragossa Manuscript | Chicago Reader

The Saragossa Manuscript

Jerry Garcia proclaimed this 1965 Polish feature his favorite movie, having seen a pared-down version in San Francisco's North Beach during the 60s, and a few years back he, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola helped to restore it to its original three-hour length. It's easy to see how it became a cult film: toward the end of the Spanish Inquisition a Napoleonic military officer (Zbigniew Cybulski—the Polish James Dean, though pudgier than usual here) is morally tested by two seductive Muslim princesses, incestuous sisters from Tunisia, and no less than nine interconnected flashbacks recounted by various characters figure in the labyrinthine plot, its tales within tales imparting some of the flavor of The Arabian Nights and occasional echoes of Kafka (mainly in the eroticism). Krzysztof Penderecki's score runs the gamut from classical music to flamenco to modernist electronic noodling, and the stark, rocky settings are elegantly filmed in black-and-white 'Scope. The late Wojciech Has was a good journeyman director, but a film of this kind really calls for someone more obsessive, like Roman Polanski—or at least someone more personally engaged with the material. Adapted by Tadeusz Kwiatkowski from Jan Potocki's 1813 novel, it's certainly an intriguing fantasy and a haunting reflection on the processes of storytelling.

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