The Saragossa Manuscript | Chicago Reader

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184 minutes · 1965

Drama, Experimental
An extravagantly complex 1965 historical drama by Polish director Wojciech Has, recently restored to its complete three-hour version. Based on an 1813 novel by Jan Potocki, the film is less a history lesson than a meditation on storytelling, which it portrays as an almost demonic act, inextricably linked to fantasy. In Spain an officer of Napoleon hears elaborate tales (often of beautiful seductresses), which the film illustrates as real; this becomes a kind of cinematic game, in which a battle is portrayed as a dance, a seduction as an attack. The labyrinthine narrative structure, with stories within stories, is effectively conveyed by the camera's twisting movements and the frequent cuts from the story to the listeners as they react, but otherwise the imagery lacks the intensity of Has's earlier work—he never personalizes the spectacle.

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