Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965)

****½
Poland

Imagine, if you will, a cinematic cross between Jorge Luis Borges and Laurence Sterne set against a Polish conception of Inquisition-era Spain revolving around a Chinese box of stories within stories within stories as narrated by a Belgian captain, a hanged man, a man possessed by a demon, a magician, a rationalist, a sullen Gypsy and many many others. They tell of things like frisky, incestuous Muslim princesses, abandoned inns and houses, a multitude of skulls and carcasses, ghosts, hallucinations, swordfights, killings, resurrections and lots and lots of cleavage. Absurd though this picture is (to the extreme) and inconsequential and incomprehensible, it's beguiling in the way that only an airy, literate, mock-epic mindfuck could ever be. Among its chief strengths is the score by Krzysztof Penderecki, incorporating Latin guitar jazz and psychedelic hippie dirges with a regal, classical score. And the pristine 'Scope cinematography by Mieczyslaw Jahoda serves to firstly ground then increasingly underscore the lunacy within a context of stately highbrow moviemaking.