Anticipating Pasolini’s TRILOGY OF LIFE, Polish tastemakerWojciech Has’s THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT is an enterprising matryoshka-structured miscellany of tales, affirmatively tackling Jan Potocki’s 1815 novel THE MANUSCRIPT FOUND IN SARAGOSSA, after a succinct frame story set in the town of Saragossa during, the rest of the narrative jumps 100-years back to the18th Century Spain, where our token protagonist Alfonso van Worden (Cybulski), the captain in the Walloon Guard, fetches up in a haunted inn where he meets two beautiful girls Emina (Czyzewska) and Zibelda (Jedryka), who claim that they are his cousins and both will marry him with alacrity if he converts to Islam.
But the next day, Alfonso wakes up in the gallows and the girls have vanished, heencounters sundry characters hereafter, a hermit priest (Opalinski) trying to cure a possessed one-eyed man Pacheco (Pieczka), who has had his own mishap with two beauties, a team of inquisitors, a posse of gangsters (whose leaders appear to be resurrected from the gallows), and recounts stories of his duel-avid father (Lindner). Only when he meets a cabalist Don Pedro Uzeda (Pawlikwoski), the locale changes to the latter’s castle, where additional characters are introduced including a great raconteur Don Avadoro (Niemczyk), from his tale, the film segues into a labyrinthine tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale-and-so-on pattern, which requires keen attention to keep tabs on who is who, during a catenation of (mis)-adventures among noblemen.
Whereas each snippet is garnished with ample ridicule and a beguiling naivety, for want of a tie-in with a contemporary viewer's more level-headed receptacle due to its removed time-line and sketchy caricature,acquired taste is prerequisite to savor its foolery and follies, not to mention the cast's theatrical acting style doesn’t quite help to split the difference between its frivolous fodder and an indiscriminate process of assimilation required to its spectatorship.
Laden with numinous symbols and memento mori, skulls (a skull goblet is a salient prop), gallows, cadavers, etc., Wojciech Has’ expressively dreamed up saga blithelyoozes with a mythic allure that would well keeps a more high-brow audience hooked, it proffers an array of religious, ethnic, occult inclusion (cabalism, Muslim, Islam, Romany), and its awe-inspring monochromatic cinematography, elaborate period costumes and settings, plus a rhapsodic symphonic score, either of them alone is worth allotting 3-hour of our lives to revel in its grandeur, if, either mysticism or romp is your cuppa.
referential points:Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s PHARAOH (1966, 7.6/10); Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ARABIAN NIGHTS (1974, 6.9/10), THE CANTERBURY TALES (1972, 7.0/10), THE DECAMERON (1971, 7.6/10);Max Ophüls’ LA RONDE (1950, 6.5/10).