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The Independent Critic

Zbigniew Cybulski, Iga Cembrzynska, Janusz Klosinski
Wojciech Has
Tadeusz Kwiatkowski (Screenplay)
Jan Potocki (Novel)
NR in US
182 Mins.

 "The Saragossa Manuscript" Review 
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Based upon Jan Potocki's novel from 1813, "The Manuscript Found in Saragossa," this cult classic from Poland has just become available on DVD from the fine folks at FACETS in all its extended, exhausting and splendid glory. Potocki, who killed himself shortly after completing the novel, could likely never have imagined that a filmmaker would tackle such a dizzying array of storylines and imagery as is contained in the novel.

Certainly not for the casual moviegoer, "The Saragossa Manuscript" was filmed in 1965 by Polish filmmaker Wojciech Has and quickly gained the favor of legendary Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia. Garcia reportedly funded a print to the Pacific Film Archive on the grounds that he'd be able to screen the film at anytime. Before long, the film also gained favor with equally legendary directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. The trio eventually raised the money needed to have the print fully restored, and the resulting three hour film played at film festivals globally over the past year.

Starring Zbigniew Cybulksi, who was widely recognized as the Polish James Dean and similarly died at the young age of 39, "The Saragossa Manuscript" kicks off during the Napoleonic Wars when a French officer discovers the manuscript as his army raids the Spanish city of Saragossa. The tale essentially follows the story of a sort of Don Juan type soldier who must pass a series of tests in order to become a member of the powerful Mauretanian family.

Sounds simple, eh?

Rest assured, it's not.

"The Saragossa Manuscript," which runs a full 182 minutes, contains storylines within storylines, flashbacks within flashbacks, reality and fantasy intertwined and an over-abundance of silliness, eroticism and arresting imagery often simultaneously.

Cybulski has the lead role here, Alfonso Van Worden, whom we follow for quite some time before even he seems to drift off into the scenery as we are introduced to even more storylines.

"The Saragossa Manuscript" is available on DVD by Facets Video, and while the film itself is infinitely involving and well presented throughout its entire three-hour runtime, the packaging itself leaves a bit to be desired and the film's aspect ratio is undeniably a tad off (particularly a distraction given the film's already unusual presentation).

Presented in Polish with English subtitles, "The Saragossa Manuscript" is a frequently dark, naughty and rather funny affair perfectly delightful for the discerning moviegoer open to the challenge of watching a film that makes "Memento" look like an Adam Sandler film.

While it's doubtful that story nor performance is really the point in "The Saragossa Manuscript," one comes away from viewing the film ultimately impressed by the power of imagination in nearly all aspects of life.

Then again, I could be wrong.

For more information on "The Saragossa Manuscript," visit Facets DVD.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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