The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

Rating: B

Dir: Wojciech Has
Star: Zbigniew Cybulski, Iga Cembrzynska, Joanna Jedryka, Aleksander Fogiel

It’s over three hours long. It’s black and white. Its plot is so inexplicable it could be called The Sargasso Manuscript. Oh, and it’s in Polish. Are we having fun yet? This is perhaps the densest, most multi-level film I’ve seen. Two soldiers from opposing sides read a book together… the characters in which tell tales… in which the participants tell tales… in which… and so on – at one point, we’re six levels down, discounting the fact that this is a film of a novel about a book. Not helping matters is that some people appear in more than one level, and the stories intertwine like a nest of vipers.

No wonder this was one of Jerry Garcia’s favourites – he and Martin Scorsese helped fund the restoration of the complete print – you either need to be paying severe attention or in some kind of altered state to grasp it all in one viewing. But you can simply sit back and enjoy the stories themselves, which combine amusing and interesting characters in a Chaucerian vein (with enough climbing in and out of bedroom windows to power a Ben Travers farce), and strong visuals, though it’s weird seeing people speaking Polish, in a setting obviously intended to be Spain. The circularity and dreamlike atmosphere is definitely reminiscent of Lynch and its general bizarreness of Jodorowsky. Still, it doesn’t seem like three hours long, even if (much as I enjoyed this) any repeat viewing in the near future seems extremely unlikely.