Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

The Saragossa Manuscript

The Saragossa Manuscript doesn't want to be understood so I'm not going to try. Zbigniew Cybulski- who in his youth was compared to James Dean but here- in his mid 30s- looks more like Bob Hope- plays an 18th century officer- in a silly hat (there are lots of wonderfully silly hats on display) who spends a night at a haunted inn- against everybody's advice- after which his life stops making sense. People keep telling him how brave he is- and he does his not very convincing best to live up to their admiration. The storyline performs all sorts of convolutions- and keeps delivering him back to the hill-top gallows where two very dead bandits (only they're not always dead) twist in the wind. The first half of the movie is mostly gothic in feel and the second half is Mozartian comedy- with plot nested within plot nested within plot. And in the final shot our hero- who by now who has been flummoxed into madness- is riding up that blasted hill to the blasted gibbet with its two hanging corpses...

It was an expensive movie for its place and time. The sets are fabulous, the set dressing is meticulous- with death's heads turning up everywhere, the camerawork is fluid, the black and white photography has the sharpness of a lucid dream.

Bunuel admired the Saragossa manuscript- and its influence can be seen in the movies of his Indian summer- beginning with the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Gerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead admired it so much that he set about restoring it- a task completed after Garcia's death by means of a cash injection from Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. They were only just in time- because the only complete copy in existence was the one belonging to the director Wojciek Has. Has should be numbered among the great names of cinema- and one of these days he will be. It just needs for lots more people to discover his bloody marvellous film.

Or films... There are others. I must try and find them.

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