including Martin Scorsese,
Francis Ford Coppola
and Luis Bunuel, and rock
star Jerry Garcia, as their
favourite film, Worcieck
Has masterpiece The
Saragossa Manuscript (Rekopis znaleziony w
Saragossie) is a weird
and wonderful Polish film
that is unlike any other
film ever made. In fact,
it was so favoured by Jerry
Scorsese that they helped
fund its initial restoration...
A TRUE WORLD CINEMA CLASSIC, The Saragossa Manuscript is a darkly
profound and thought-provoking series of adventure stories surrounding a mysterious
ancient book. Full of strangely disturbing and erotic drawings, the book is
found during the Napoleonic wars by a soldier, Walloon Guard Captain Alphonse
Van Worden (played by Zbigniew Cybulski the Polish James Dean),
and it appears to be about his grandfather. So fascinated is he with the illustrations
that he doesn't turn a hair when an enemy soldier appears but instead
shares the experience with him.
Van Worden goes on to live out the book's obscure, intriguing and diabolical
storylines as he embarks on a journey across the stark landscapes of 17th Century
Spain a desolate landscape populated with ghosts, seductive demons, debauched
royalty and ethereal priests. The Saragossa Manuscript benefits from
being shot in mono-chrome as it is a film of shadows a sinister and nightmarish
journey to the dark side.
The Saragossa Manuscript is not as anyone who has ever watched
these irresistible classics will know remotely like the gore-filled horror
films of today. It is rather more subtle and leaves much to the imagin-ation.
This masterpiece recently enjoyed a fantastic film launch at the NFT
complete with live music performed by The Recording Angel Ensemble and followed
by a successful three-week theatrical run. Now it is to make its DVD debut in
a carefully-restored, full 180-minute version, courtesy of Mr Bongo Films, on
7 April (2008).
Based on the book written in French between 1797 and 1812 by
the highly-esteemed Count Jan Potrocki, the film creates an eerie, mysterious
and rather disturbing world of the supernatural. The Saragossa Manuscript
is a mystical text that spans centuries and nations, revealing a wealth
of sometimes humorous, sometimes horrifying stories that climax to the final,
In the first story, Alphonse is riding towards Castile with his super-stitious
companions one of whom disappears, supposedly taken by the evil ghosts
and enters the inn Venta Quemada, where he is entertained by two Muslim
ladies Emina and her sister Zibelda who claim to be related to
him. In the morning he wakes up to find himself at the foot of a gallows with
two hanging men and a pile of skulls a recurring event during the film.
He is warned by a hermit: "Beware all temptations; Think about your soul's salvation.
Devils are tempters; beware of Satan. You spent last night at the Venta Quemada…
You could be haunted by two hanged men." Another story tells of a man in love
with his stepmother's sister, Inizillia, who tries to meet her secretly with
the help of his stepmother Camilla. "It's been quiet since those two thugs,
the Zota brothers, were hanged…" but, he is told, "cruel gangs are roving the
In further stories there are zombies and Alphonse is arrested by the Inquisition;
he visits a neglected castle in the Ardennes and he con-sorts with gypsies.
In one story the captain is given some verses of Shir Ha Shi Mir, which is said
to contain the purest beauty of poetry. "In Hebrew, every letter is a number;
every word a very wise com-bination and if it is pronounced with the right exhalation
and accent one may move mountains and drain rivers. Adonai created the world
with a word…"
A blonde girl, watching from a Fifteenth Century Castle window as the gypsies
approach, says: "Good company is more precious than wealth or black magic" and
Don Pedro, in another story, says poignantly: "Doses of suspense are the sign
of a master."
Despairs and frustrations are scattered to the mists of time but where does
reality end and fantasy take over? Very strange and intense.
The intriguing stylistic flourishes sit well against the wonderful sound-track,
which was composed by Krzyszt Penderecki, renowned for the scores of The
Shining and Wild At Heart.
Saragossa Manuscript is due for release on 7 April (2008) with
an RRP of £14.99.
"I love The Saragossa Manuscript… exceptional" Luis Bunuel
"Simultaneously horrific, erotic and funny… this is one mother of a film"
"This is a complex and exhilarating film that ranks among the most remarkable
achievements of 1960s European cinema" Radio Times
"A tortuously inventive tale; miss it at your peril!" MotorBar