Between Dream and Reality: «The Saragossa Manuscript»

An Analysis of Wojciech Jerzy Has’s Movie

by Iwona Grodź (Author)
Monographs 138 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Series Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Epigraph
  • Preface
  • Podziękowania/Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • 1 Polish Cinema of 1964/1965
  • 2 Background of the Realisation
  • 3 Script and Shooting Script
  • 4 Jan Potocki and His Masterpiece
  • 5 Mysterious “Hieroglyph”
  • 6 A Baroque Feast
  • 7 Oriental Dream
  • 8 Surreal Fantasy
  • 9 Krzysztof Penderecki’s Musical Experiment
  • 10 Manuscript “Found Abroad”
  • 11 “Perceiving a Particle, You Perceive Depth”: About Wojciech Jerzy Has’s Feature Films
  • Filmography
  • Bibliography
  • Websites Devoted to The Saragossa Manuscript
  • Films and Television Materials about the The Saragossa Manuscript
  • About the Author
  • Interdisciplinary Studies in Performance

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1 Polish Cinema of 1964/1965

The Saragossa Manuscript by Wojciech Has was made at the time when a whole sequence of other historical films was produced in Poland. The times of great Polish superproductions of the nineteen-sixties resemble slightly the current fashion for adaptations of great works of Polish literature (Ogniem i mieczem [With Fire and Sword], Pan Tadeusz [Mr Tadeus], Quo vadis, Przedwiośnie [The Spring To Come] et cetera).

This analogy is no longer in effect, however, when one compares the films’ artistic values. It was Aleksander Ford who began the procession of superproductions with Krzyżacy [The Knights of the Cross] according to the novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz (1960). The success of this film exceeded the wildest expectations (ten million spectators). What followed was, less successful, Panienka z okienka [A girl in the window] (1964) on motifs of Deotyma’s novel, directed by Maria Kaniewska, with costumes designed by Jan Marcin Szancer. In the same year in which also Pętla [The Loop]’s author opus came into being, Andrzej Wajda realised Popioły [Ashes] according to the novel of Stefan Żeromski. Right afterwards, Faraon [Pharaoh] (1966) was made by Jerzy Kawalerowicz on the basis of Bolesław Prus’s work.

For a fuller total image it is worth to provide a few more pieces of information from Polish cinema history of the times. In 1965 – besides Has’s film – the following premiered: Późne popołudnie [Late afternoon] by Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski, Pingwin [Penguin] by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński, Rysopis [Description] and Walkower [Walkover] by Jerzy Skolimowski, Salto [Somersault] by Tadeusz Konwicki. On television, Wojna domowa [Civil war] series by Jerzy Gruza also opened in October. Besides, this year the “Warsaw’s Mermaid”, the Polish Film Criticism Prize, was awarded for 1964 to the film Pierwszy dzień wolności [The First Day of Freedom] by Aleksander Ford. Readers of “Film” magazine also awarded the film with the “Golden Duck”. In January 1966, the first issue of monthly “Kino” appeared6.

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Let us however return to Polish superproductions. It is often thought that the apogee of the historical film production in that period was a response to the growing significance of television. The guarantee of pulling large crowds of recipients to the cinemas was supposed to be the fact that concomitant “giants”, similar as a matter of fact to today’s, were adaptations of Polish literature classics. Classroom literature, one might add, which is not a meaningless fact.

Jan Rybkowski, who was making plans for the production of Lalka [The Doll] in 1964 (eventually W.J. Has made the film in 1968), thus talked about Polish spectacular films: “[A]‌fter the period in which they lightened their burdens by responsibility – analysing films [“Polish film school”] – the cinematography and authors were in an empty place. (…) [S]o it was necessary to turn to the supplies”7.

It is difficult, however, to agree with any who claim that the novel by count Potocki was an exceptionally imposing and obvious “supply”.

Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz justified the attendant coming into existence of many spectacular undertakings also with “the desire for reaching foreign markets”8, all enthusiastic about works such as Cleopatra or Ben Hur. When examining the earlier work of Has (particularly ones which were a success in the West, e.g. Jak być kochaną [How to be Loved]) and reading his statements about film production, it is impossible not to notice that this desire was not the main motive inducing the author of Manuscript for the completion of this undertaking.

Numerous historical giants provoked a critical backlash of sharp opinions concerning the films. We are observing a similar situation at present as well. It is surprising that in the attempt to discredit the meaning of superproductions, the reviewers of nineteen-sixties used similar arguments to those writing today. At that time, the fundamental charge was as follows: such productions walk away from the contemporary subject matter and plunge into “archaic and museum-oriented”9 issues. The only opinion slightly exotic today is one uttered by Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz, who ←14 | 15→commented that such projects are safe both for the authors and for “the fearful administrative film apparatus”, since “picking on Prus, Żeromski, or even Potocki (though a count, and cosmopolitan) would be purely absurd”10.

How was The Saragossa Manuscript thus contextualised? Jerzy Płażewski in his History of Film placed a brief piece of information about this film of Has in the subsection with a much-revealing title Renovating the disregarded genre. The genre he meant were the great historical shows already enjoying great success in the USA. As tradition prescribes, Płażewski mentions the work of The Loop’s author together with Krzyżacy [The Knights of the Cross], Popioły [Ashes], Faraon [Pharaoh], Pan Wołodyjowski [Colonel Wolodyjowski] and Potop [The Deluge]. The interesting fact is that he devotes surprisingly little place to it and focuses on Wajda’s film (Popioły [Ashes]) above all.

This perhaps resulted from the fact that, as usual, Has “differed” from the others. Admittedly, he produced a large, spectacular film, but far he felt to the popularly comprehended “historicity” and “massivity” of this type of undertakings. Moreover, the novel of Jan Potocki did not belong to the school canon of required reading. It is difficult to speak about its “Polish national identity”, too. Admittedly, the author was Polish, but wrote his book, after all, in French, setting the action far outside the borders of Poland.

As for the director, he definitely did not like the “superproduction” description. He would only ironically remark that the work devoted to Manuscript “was gigantic”11. Simultaneously, he felt the great awareness of the significance of this project, extra-artistic meanings included. In one interview he said: “[Giants] are export goods – culturally, commercially – much wanted at world markets. It is well known that producers of huge films are treated seriously. And so, reputational and commercial benefits for the Polish cinematography seem unquestionable”12.

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At the same time he noticed that these films [Ashes, Pharaoh, The Manuscript] initiated an ambitious race of creativity among Polish directors. The race of that what – in his opinion – fell into decline most recently, which he regarded as the cause of the past crisis13.

In conclusion, it is worthwhile to quote the words of Konrad Eberhardt, who called Has’s Manuscript “a sabotage superproduction”14. Indeed, it was an original mockery of the viewers’ habits; a great and spectacular fairy tale film, confirming and at the same time revealing its own illusoriness. It shows the “seams” (e.g. in the faked fight of representatives of Gomelez family with the Inquisition) and conventions, hiding a secret difficult to specify15. It is an unprecedented marriage of exclusiveness and mass production.

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6M. Hendrykowska, The Chronicle of Polish cinematography 1895–1997, Poznań, 1999, pp. 260–267.

7J. Rybkowski, “Towards the” great film?, “Film”, no. 13 (1964), pp. 6–7.

8K. T. Toeplitz, Feature film – five thematic circles, [in:] J. Toeplitz, Twenty-five years of film in The People’s Republic of Poland, Warszawa, 1969, p. 162.

9J. Rybkowski, “Towards the” great film?, op. cit., pp. 6–7.

10K. T. Toeplitz, Luck was near?, “Kultura”, no. 8 (1964), p. 12.

11W. Has, Why “Saragossa”? An interview by Barbara Kaźmierczak, “Ekran”, no. 51/52 (1964), pp. 26–27.

12W. Has, Why?, op. cit., pp. 26–27.

13Ibidem, pp. 26–27.

14K. Eberhardt, “In Spain, i.e. nowhere”, [in:] Wojciech Has, by K. Eberhardt, Warszawa, 1967, pp. 64–67.

15Ibidem, pp. 64–67.

2 Background of the Realisation

“In the glow of the artificial spotlight the outlines of strange buildings show, a courtyard surrounded with cast rock wall, covered with an arabesque with a beautiful, intricately ornamented gate in the Moorish style; a dark cave with coarse, rough walls shimmering with specks of minerals (…)

– Damn it! There was a bush there… Who took the bush…”16. (from the production report of The Saragossa Manuscript)

The unique place The Saragossa Manuscript has found in the filmography of Wojciech Has may arouse interest. This unusually visually luxurious film was created, after all, both before and after very intimate and in a sense complementary projects: Jak być kochaną [How to be Loved] (1963) and Szyfry [Codes] (1967).

How does one explain this puzzle? After all, this costume drama giant – at first glance – generally speaking did not fit at all into what Has had dealt earlier with17.

The Manuscript was even said to be a “wonder in the Polish film” (Zygmunt Kałużyński), as if forgetting that it is an emanation of what had been important in Has’s earlier films18. “Already in Złoto [Gold]” – as Konrad Eberhardt wrote – “reality for the first time encounters fiction, ←17 | 18→illusion”19. Similarly, the director right before the premiere declared: “The realisation of Saragossa is a consequence [of my previous interests]: it is an attempt at a film which is poetic, fantastic, but not a fairy-tale; and not exclusively adventure contrary to beliefs of some”20.

In this project Has “explains his style to himself”21. The artistic team constituted by Has and Skarżyński “for the first time fully sensed the poetry and frenzy of the combination of baroque, surrealism and medieval fair”22, which was in this case completely acceptable and justified.

Finding the source of the idea for a film adaptation of Jan Potocki’s novel may assist at finding the most important principle guiding the director’s imagination. Admittedly, after Jak być kochaną [How to be Loved] he wanted to produce a contemporary film, but unfortunately the idea was dropped. However, there was not any serious turn about in my intentions because of that – said the director in an interview. I thought about “Saragossa” for ages. Maybe even not so much about it specifically, but rather about a poetic film, a comedy perhaps, with a philosophical implied meaning23. Thus did the director emphasise his need for “rejecting all petrification, and defence against a shutdown in always the same range of interests”.

The book which allowed the author of Nieciekawa historia [A Dull Story] to leave intimate psychological dramas carried out so far (Pętla [The Loop], Pożegnania [Goodbyes], Wspólny pokój [Common Room], Rozstanie [Parting], Złoto [Gold]) was a novel by the 18th-century writer Jan Potocki. The director of Sanatorium pod Klepsydrą [The Hour-Glass Sanatorium] was “fascinated by flashback levels and dreams in dreams in The Manuscript24, which seems very characteristic when taking into consideration his earlier films – and certainly also the ones which he directed later (Sanatorium pod Klepsydrą [The Hour-Glass Sanatorium], Niezwykła podróż Baltazara Kobera [Amazing Journey of Baltazar Kober] et caetera).

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More than that, the unremitting topicality of the subjects taken up by Jan Potocki was important for the director. In an interview for “Film” in 1963 he said: “Ghosts are not believed in nowadays, but human backwardness and stupidity are quite universal features after all. (…) I would like [The Manuscript] to be a realistic, but also poetic, witty and full of humour story about the human”25.

It is a puzzling fact that such an unusually costly project, not conforming to the generally prevailing aesthetics could come into existence in Poland of the nineteen-sixties. The director would usually quote the following anecdote when explaining this riddle: “Gomułka wanted such films to be made which he would like. They explained to him that it was necessary to take the world opinion into account. He replied: five directors may have the right to do what they want. And the rest would make the cinema for me. Apparently, I ranked among these five”26.

The very idea of the adaptation was conceived during Wojciech Has’s flight by plane from Kraków to Warszawa. A writer accompanied the director on a journey: Tadeusz Kwiatkowski (among others: Lunapark, Kłopoty z talentem [Problems with genius], Ucieczka z dżungli [Escape from the Jungle], Gwiazda brazylijska [Brazilian Star]), whom the author knew very well from Kraków. The future co-scriptwriter of The Manuscript knew that Has dreamt about an adaptation of Bruno Schulz’s prose, and therefore surmised that the novel of Jan Potocki would be perfect material for him. Indeed, it was.

Jerzy Bossak, the manager of “Kamera” Film Team at that time, was supposedly persuading Has to produce The Manuscript as a four-hour long film. What would necessarily follow was the need to produce it in two parts (which occurred anyway), not entirely in accordance with the intentions of the author (due to the narrative complexity of the project, preserving the continuity of the reception was very important to him). The critics – after the premiere – also emphasised that there ought not to be any intermissions in the show, as they unnecessarily distract the spectators’ attention27.

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From the scriptwriter’s – Tadeusz Kwiatkowski’s – memoirs we gather that the director had even received a proposal of a six-hour’ series realisation for television, on the base of Jan Potocki’s novels28. To this proposal Has gave a firm refusal. It is possible to guess that two reasons accounted for it. The author of Pętla [The Loop] was afraid that The Manuscript in the series version would lose what was most precious to it: “the Chinese box narration”, and “the consequent philosophical depth”. Most probably, Has’s negative stance on television in general was the second cause. The director issued negative statements about it repeatedly, particularly in the nineteen-nineties; and claimed that television “destroys imagination”, and people working there are oriented at only financial – not artistic – benefits29.

Once the project was prepared, the fruition began in 1963. The production of count of Pików’s book adaptation was supposed to last for over a year, and at the end of 1964 the film was ready. The premiere was held on a snowy evening of 9 February 1965 in the Warszawa Sala Kongresowa, even though originally it was planned for 25 January 1965.

Right after the news about the undertaking were divulged, many reports on it appeared in press, along with beautiful photographs from sets, in among others “Ekran” (1964, issue 19), “Film” (1963, issue 52, 1964, issue 27), “Odgłosy” (1964, issue 39) and “Przekrój” (1964, issue 1022). Here are a few interesting pieces of information revealing the background of this project: “The Manuscript consists of two series and 5 thousand metres of film reel. Its realisation scheduled for 495 days was finished in the shortened time of 464 days (97 filming days instead of 112). At that time the car from Wrocław Film Company counted the mileage of 164 thousand kilometres. The decoration area amounted to 10 thousand sq.m. 187 actors from 26 theatres appeared in a film in leading or supporting roles”30.

Additionally, “232 costumes were designed for the film. (…) A set model of Madrid, one of the biggest built in Polish film ever, was constructed in ←20 | 21→the northern and less busy part of Szczytnicki Park in Wrocław. (…) It cost about a million zlotys, with full costs of the film decorations being 6 million. 18 million zlotys were allocated for the entire film (…)”31.

In the “Film Press Service” published already after the premiere of The Saragossa Manuscript (1965, No. 1) one can find the more information about the progress in works. We read there that the open airs of Sierra the Morena were replaced by Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska, Buen Retiro – by the Wrocław park. The film was also shot at a castle near Częstochowa, and all interiors – in the Wrocław studio.

The archival sources state that the fictional Spain with Square of the Sun (Plaza del Sol) and the church facade of was one of biggest attractions for tours arriving in Wrocław at that time. Only animals appearing in The Manuscript enjoyed comparable interest: the vulture, the python or mules. Andrzej Wajda used the part of the film set which imitated a small Spanish street in Popioły [Ashes].

Well-known stage designers prepared the decoration: Tadeusz Myszorek, Leonard Mokicz, Lidia and Jerzy Skarżyńscy (the two latter also costumes), all of whom Has had already cooperated with (Wspólny pokój [Common Room] 1959, Rozstanie [Parting] 1960, Złoto [Gold] 1961)32. Only now, however the communication between the director and the stage designer – as regards the picturesqueness of the image – became apparent to the fullest. Therefore “this film is an example of exceptional flamboyance. Its lavishness and decorativeness were completely unselfish, deprived of any illustrational or educational purpose, of public, historical or political references”33. ←21 | 22→Very thorough preparations (the gathering of visual, historical and the like materials34) were consulted with experts in individual fields. Historian of art Zdzisław Żygulski, for instance, was the specialist for the Spanish culture.

Thus spoke the assistant to the director, Andrzej Piotrowski, about how they searched in Poland for an appropriate location: the geological map of Poland was used to this purpose. They searched for areas with mountainous and calcareous foundations. When in the end they found the right area, it turned out to be “Spain without the sun, without the right colours”35.

It is worthwhile here to clarify a number of misunderstandings associated with the realisation of The Manuscript on the black-and-white tape (Cinemascope). Justifications for this action suggested lack of financial resources and appropriate technical conditions. Let us, however, go back to the year 1964 and let the author himself speak. Surprisingly, it turns out that the director resigned from the colour consciously. He decided that “the script is good material for a black-and-white film, exactly. Colour – as he claimed – in certain parts would be simply incompatible with our aims”36.

Paradoxically, the black-and-white arrangement of the set lends it authenticity. Colours would probably destroy this impression, revealing the illusion of Spain. Moreover, the director wanted to escape from traditional costume adventure films. Even if he wanted to refer to films produced according to this convention (particularly in part II of The Manuscript), he would do it only to parody and ridicule it. Simultaneously, he would admit that he was going to produce a colour film in the future, but out of a real need dictated by artistic reasons. “I cannot – he said – take colourful photographs only because they are universally regarded to be more attractive”37.

At the first stage of the production, the greatest sensation came to be the casting an icon of the Polish cinematography Zbigniew Cybulski for the important part of Alfons. The press of 1964 buzzed with rumours on this ←22 | 23→subject. The words of Mieczysław Walasek: “Cybulski in a wig, costume, with a sword and without glasses? (…) A slightly shocking meeting”38 express surprise felt by other critics, too. It was as a matter of fact the first costume role of this actor. Years later, co-workers of Has still smile when recalling circumstances of his engagement to the film.

The author of Pożegnania [Goodbyes] sought for a young actor, no older than about twenty three, as the literary original prescribed. Concurrently, he assumed that the actor could be a bit funny, and consciously self-ironic, but must “have a wide range of acting abilities at his disposal”39. Tadeusz Kwiatkowski recalled that Has had at first thought about Zbigniew Wójcik. Unfortunately, this actor died even before the beginning of film shooting.

Then, “good advisers” – as Franciszek Pieczka named them – recommended to Has a French actor of Polish origin, working under the pseudonym André Clair (Adam Trześniewski). As it was said in a television programme Kamera na reżysera [Camera to the Director], broadcast in “Kino Polska” on 1 April 2004, Clair struggled with the part. Quite recently Bartosz Michalak revealed the inside story of this misunderstanding, bringing memories of director’s co-workers: “[F]‌or the part of Alfons Has chose a Frenchman with Polish roots. That actor presented him with a neat biography, he looked quite decently. He arrived in Wrocław like a celebrity: with his wife, child, and nanny. He settled in a rented villa. Meanwhile, we felt anxiety on the first shooting day. (…) Eventually, the gentleman from France turned out to be only averagely talented; admittedly, he participated in great undertakings, but only played minor parts there…”40. Has lost a few filming days, quite a lot of money and nerves because of him.

Finally, during a whole-night-time sitting, somebody (who?) from the team mentioned the name Cybulski. Barbara Pec-Ślesicka (second production manager) was delegated to go to Warszawa with the objective of bringing him to the Wrocław location. According to her relation, “at five o’clock in the morning Cybulski went out to her with words: Baśka, look at me. Are you conscious? Me, with my ass next to my knees? Such a part?”41 ←23 | 24→Still – the unforgettable, tragical Maciek Chełmicki became the inept, a little bit superannuated, but “deeper, internally richer”42 Alfons.

At this stage it is worth recollecting one of anecdotes from the film set with Cybulski in the leading part. Future Alfons’s sunglasses not only hid his small eyes, but above all corrected his considerable sight defect. Unfortunately, they were not to be accepted on the nose of a captain of the Walloon guard, especially in the year 1730. Forced to discard his glasses and favourite clothes (although Kazimierz Kutz relates that probably even in this film Cybulski acted in worker shoes in some scenes43) he must have felt as a fish out of water. Barbara Pec-Ślesicka recalls the “nightmare of the first shooting days”, when the actor as blind as a bat was forced to ride a horse44. A feeling not to be envious of; from the perspective of time however, it seems that the “blind” acting heightened the artistic effect of this knight-errant’s pointless roaming about Sierra Morena in the 17th century.

Just after the premiere many reviews of Has’s film were published in press. Besides praise also quite a lot of charges were put forward. Zbigniew Klaczyński, for example, wrote about “the exaggerated overloading” and difficult in reception pastiche character of the entire film45. Barbara Mruklik pointed to “the not enough balanced dramatics” and “irresoluteness to one style”46. What Jan Alfred Szczepański demanded were cuts, removal of “banal influences of the banality and short stories à la Boccaccio”47. Kazimierz Kochański would write about “shallowness” and the lack of contact between the film and the spectator. In the end he was able neither to recommend nor to discourage the audience from watching the film – this was also characteristic for many reviews48. In “Życie Warszawy” [“Warsaw’s ←24 | 25→Life”], ironically, the main news concerned a snow blizzard hitting the capital; the film was reviewed in quite a succinct way49.

However, some of the reviewers agreed as to the beauty and intellectual advantages of The Manuscript. The critic from “Nowe Drogi” [“New Ways”] wrote about “specific feast of images-riddles and images-surprises”50. Bolesław Michałek underlined the literary and artistic value of the project, “ability of walking on the edge of both the real and the fantastic world, the seriousness and the joke, the play and the reflection”51.

Piotr Kajewski from “Odra” perceived Has above all as a “champion of the art of mystification”, of which The Manuscript was supposed to be best evidence52. At the festival in Cannes the film was also received very well53.

Likewise, the reactions of spectators to The Manuscript were extreme. Among others, Bożena Ciecierska reports it54. Many spectators would leave during the show; others were clearly bored while it lasted. But they were also those who were very fascinated by the film. “Such diametrically different reactions – a reviewer from “Wiedza i Życie” [“Knowledge and Life”] wrote – are aroused only by great works or deep kitsch”55.

Some critics wrote that in 1965 the audience was still unprepared for such a narrative experiment, in which “everything gets complicated and tangled up, nothing begins and nothing ends”56. Additionally, the poster inscription reading “the first Polish horror romance” undoubtedly did not contribute well to the reactions of spectators, who expected something completely different57. Did Has indeed produce this film too early? Is it possible to be as definite in evaluations as the critic from “Kultura”, who ←25 | 26→wrote: “somebody to whom [The Manuscript] does not appeal must search for fault in themselves”58? The answers here, obviously, cannot be absolute; however I deem them to be necessarily considered one more time, and even more so because time flies to the benefit of The Manuscript. The further from the memorable premiere, the more does the number of this film’s fans increase.

←26 | 27→

16M. Walasek, “The Saragossa Manuscript” production report, Polish journal “Screen”, no. 19 (1964), pp. 8–9.

17K. T. Toeplitz, The Saragossa Manuscript – a review, “Świat”, no. 8 (1965), p. 13.

18K. Eberhardt, op. cit., p. 66. Also Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz wrote about similarities between Saragossa and Has’s earlier films in his review in “Świat”. The critic noticed that the director would always turn toward “literary perversion”. Moreover, all his films balance between the “serious” and “pretending”, and similarities are visible in character development and construction of pompous dialogues, which “suggest doubtfulness whether there is any sense to speak at all”.

19K. Eberhardt, In Spain…, op. cit., p. 67.

20W. Has, Why?, op. cit., p. 26.

21K, T. Toeplitz, The Saragossa…, op. cit., p. 13.

22K. T. Toeplitz, The Saragossa…, op. cit., p. 13.

23M. Walasek, op. cit., p. 9.

24W. Has, Projects not to be realised. An interview by J. Słodowski and T. Wijata, [in:] J. Słodowski and T. Wijata, The Lumber-Room of Dreams, Warszawa, 1994, p. 11.

25E. Smoleń-Wasilewska, Before the film production of Poland’s first romance, “Film”, no. 50/51 (1963), pp. 10–11.

26T. Sobolewski, Choose the unattainable. An interview with W. Has, “Kino”, no. 7 (1989), pp. 1–5.

27W. Żurkowski, A game for the wise, “Kultura”, no. 8 (1965), p. 5.

28Confirmed by information from the article Own wings – French film critics describe Wojciech Has’s work, in fragments, “Film”, no. 43 (1984), p. 10.

29J. Piekarczyk, A goodbye to the epoch. An interview with Wojciech Has, “Przekrój”, no. 24 (1995), pp. 10–12. See also M. Malatyńska, Two mustard seeds. An interview with Wojciech Has, “Przekrój”, no. 20 (2000), pp. 13–14.

30W. Has, Why?, op. cit., p. 26.

31J. Pomorski, Madrid in Szczytnicki Park. The way they are producing “The Saragossa Manuscript”, “Przekrój”, no. 1022 (1964), p. 10.

32K. Filimoniuk, Cinema. All that I learned about the film, I owe to Wojtek], [in:] K. Filimoniuk, Jerzy Skarżyński. Moments from the painter’s and scenographer’s life, Olszanica, 2004, pp. 119–135. Skarżyński recalled that his adventure with Has’s Manuscript is connected with Antoni Uniechowski, the creator, among others, of very interesting illustrations to the printed edition of Jan Potocki’s Manuscript found in Saragossa from 1950. Skarżyński himself illustrated the comic adaptation of the book, published at the beginning of 1990s in a magazine entitled “Fan” and devoted to the art of comics.

33T. Sobolewski, The common room. On Wojciech Has’s cinema, [in:] T. Sobolewski, Too great a blaze. On the contemporary ciemna, Kraków 2004, pp. 112–118.

34K. Filimoniuk, Cinema…, op. cit., pp. 127–129. A very helpful source of information was for instance illustrated magazine “Nieznana Hiszpania” [“Unknown Spain”], published right after the First World War.

35E. Smoleń-Wasilewska, “Wojciech Has is preparing The Saragossa Manuscript”, “Film”, no. 52 (1963), pp. 10–11.

36W. Has, Why?, op. cit., p. 27. See also W. Has, Why are we doing this film? An interview by Z. Orski, “Ty i Ja”, no. 11 (1964), pp. 39–42.

37W. Has, Why?, op. cit., p. 27.

38M. Walasek, op. cit., p. 8.

39Ibidem, p. 8.

40B. Michalak, A pearl in the Chinese box, “Film”, no. 6 (2004), pp. 78.

41I quote after Bartosz Michalak, Ibidem, p. 79.

42M. Walasek, op. cit., p. 9.

43K. Kutz,op. cit.

44I quote after Michalak, op. cit., p. 79.

45Z. Klaczyński, TheChinese box of wonderful stories, “Trybuna Ludu”, no. 43 (1965), p. 6.

46B. Mruklik, Wojciech Has’s Polish Baroque, “Ekran”, no. 7 (1965), pp. 6–7.

47J. A. Szczepański, Sometimes less is more, “Film”, no. 8 (1965), pp. 4–5.

48K. Kochański, The lost manuscript from Saragossa, “Tygodnik Kulturalny”, no. 8 (1965), p. 6.

49S. Grzelecki, Premiere of a Polish film: “The Saragossa Manuscript”, “Życie Warszawy”, no. 36 (1965), p. 4.

50K. K., Six-month balance of Polish film, “Nowe Drogi”, no. 7 (1965) [nd].

51B. Michałek, Cannes 1965, “Film”, no. 24 (1965), p. 7.

52P. Kajewski, Tormenting demons, “Odra”, no. 4 (1965), pp. 73–75.

53B. Michałek, op. cit., p. 7.

54B. Ciecierska, The Saragossa Manuscript – a review, “Wiedza i Życie”, no. 5 (1965), pp. 206–209.

55B. Ciecierska, The Manuscript…, op. cit., p. 209.

56Ibidem. Cf. also J. Pomorski, Madrid…, op. cit., p. 10 and A. Jackiewicz, Has in a Spanish Costume, “Życie Literackie”, no. 8 (1965), pp. 5.

57B. Ciecierska, The Manuscript…, op. cit., p. 209.

58M. Żurkowski, A game…, op. cit., p. 5.

3 Script and Shooting Script

In the film’s script, Tadeusz Kwiatkowski and Wojciech Has strove to preserve the features of narration characteristic of Jan Potocki, similar to Arabian Nights and to Bocaccio’s tale. It was also important, especially for the film director and “a believer in the image”, to recreate the Chinese box composition of the text in the film. Therefore, preceding the film’s appearance on the big screen, the creator of Pętla [The Loop] announced: “it shall not be expected that the plot of this image be traditional”. Has proposed to his viewers, “who he sensed were bored with the traditional forms of narration”, something new. He succeeded unquestionably.

Simultaneously, he emphasised his tremendous awareness of The Manuscript’s composition. Interviewed by Barbara Kaźmierczak, he said: “Towards the end of part one there is a deliberate slowdown in action. This allows for the introduction of new matters, new plots”59.

The film’s communicativeness was of great importance to the director who wished for real contact with the audience. He would say: “I would like Saragossa to win the top prize – the spectator! (…) I am of the opinion that you can make films in which both your own ambitions and the contact with the audience are preserved”60.

Fig. 1:Avadoro from The Manuscript Found in Saragossa (1964) – the project by Lidia and Jerzy Skarżyńscy. Source: From the collections of the Museum of Cinematography in Łódź

Paradoxically – despite the fact that his cinema is perceived as hermetic – Has made films for recipients above all, and not for himself only.

Priorities identified in this way caused the film’s screenwriter, Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, to select only the most prominent from the thirty tales present in Potocki’s masterpiece. The choice was difficult, and then slightly criticised, but in the end turned out to be successful. From almost the very beginning of the work on the script, Has collaborated with the operator, Mieczysław Jahoda, and the stage designer, Jerzy Skarżyński61. Their fruitful discussions brought about numerous changes and the creation of ←27 | 28→a thorough shooting script abundant in colour underlining and sketches drawn by the director62.

The precision at the literary preparation of the script has always been extremely important for the creator of Pętla [The Loop]. What made his screenplays well thought-out and detailed were both his considerable field consciousness and features characteristic for Has’s style: e.g. long shots, which at the time due to the shortage of film reels could only be repeated up to 3 times. For instance, the shooting script of The Saragossa Manuscript ←28 | 29→contains, with sketches and author’s notes not taken into consideration, 484 pages.

Such an incredible amount of work even before the shoot demanded not only a few months’ worth of preparation and labouring over a piece of paper but also an enormous deal of patience. But for this great effort and the fact that all the cues were written down in a straightforward way, the work on Has’s film went smoothly most of the time. A few months in advance the actors already knew the exact days when they would be needed, a fact that i.e. Gustaw Holoubek would recall. Also, the work would usually end earlier than planned (as remembered by Piotr Bajor, the protagonist of Osobisty pamiętnik grzesznika [The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner]).

In his report from the film’s set Mieczysław Walasek wrote: “A peculiar crew. Neither improvisation nor the rush or helter-skelter typical for film sets are present here. You get the feeling that everybody knows perfectly what their duties are. (…) The director hardly ever raises his voice, even the time-honoured: Silence! Camera! – he utters somehow ordinarily, unhurriedly”63.

According to Has, such a thorough shooting script cut down the time spent working on the film’s set, so the crew never had the time to get bored64.

In the shooting script the film was divided into two parts which corresponded to the original form of Jan Potocki’s novel. Part I: Dziesięć dni z życia Alfonsa van Wordena [Ten days from the Life of Alfons van Worden] is followed by part II: Avadoro, czyli historia hiszpańska [Avadoro, a Spanish Story]. The film version of The Manuscript can be watched either in whole (as proposed by Polish Television, TVP) or in two parts (as proposed by TV programme “Ale Kino” – a Polish television channel owned and operated by Canal+).

At this point it is worth noting that there exists some incoherence between the director’s draft and the final result. In the shooting script part I ends with scene 70, where Alphonse meets the Cabbalist. It is not until ←29 | 30→part II that Velasquez appears. In the finished film, however, both the young captain meets both characters in part I. Part II, in turn, begins with the scene of entrance to the Cabbalist’s castle. Such composition seems to be the logical result of the decision to introduce an intermission. Therefore, both parts of The Manuscript constitute rather complete and stylistically coherent storylines.

Additional changes concerned the necessary shortening of the film65. The original version was 210 minutes long. Due to the objections raised by the distribution team, Has had to shorten the film to approximately 178 minutes (critics would also mention 120- and 156-minute long versions). At present, the full version of the film is available in the West with a copy stored in the archives of the National Film School in Łódź, Poland66.

Fig. 2:Count costume – the project by Lidia and Jerzy Skarżyńscy. Source: From the collections of the Museum of Cinematography in Łódź

Skimming through the script one can easily tell which parts of the plot were removed. Scenes 34 to 43, contained on pages 88–115 of the script, were eliminated from the first part of the film. The question arises, what did the erased fragments include? Two stories. The first one about a young man named Trywuld (spelling as used in the shooting script, in the novel his name was spelled as either Trivulcjo or Trivuld of Ravenna) and another one about Rodrigo (prototype: Landorf of Ferrara), both of which are read by a theologian Don Iñigo to young Alfons in his family home.

These stories first and foremost serve a didactic purpose. Secondly, they are a trial of some sort used by old Worden to test his son even prior to the young man’s departure for Madrid. The fourth stage of narration is employed in them (Alfons tells the Hermit the story of his youth).

The first story starts with a beautiful Juanita (called Nina dei Gieraci in the novel) rejecting the advances of young, arrogant Trywuld. The girl has ever since childhood been in love with somebody else – her cousin Manuel (Tebald dei Gieraci). Unable to bear his first love failure, Trywuld stalks the couple at first, and when their banns are announced in church, he mortally stabs them both with a dagger. From this time on, Trivuld wanders in the world tormented by terrible twinges of conscience. Completely changed, ←30 | 31→he returns after a few years to a Gothic chapel (Potocki describes St. Peter’s chapel in Ravenna) in which he committed the crime. At midnight – at the clang of the bell – all the sarcophagi in the church unexpectedly open and release the dead people who were buried in them. Skeletons in decayed clothes, covered in cobwebs, gather around the altar by which a living corpse of the priest appears. Sounds of the church bells and organs are heard through the church. The dead pray as during mass. The only difference is that Trywuld is the only man alive taking part in the ceremony. When a dead man with jagged teeth and empty eye sockets rests his hand on the horrified young man’s shoulder, the priest stops reading. The fact that Alfons is scared by this story vexes his father and proves that the young man is not yet ready for the expedition.

←31 | 32→

Only the son’s reaction to the second story does change the old van Worden’s decision. Rodrigo was the first debauchee in the city and would often meet with women of easy virtue. He liked one of them particularly: Bianca de Rossi. The girl, however, set a condition: she will be his if she is invited for dinner to Rodrigo’s mother’s house. Obviously, Rodrigo’s family did not agree to host “the biggest harlot in the city” (in the novel the dinner does take place). Uncle Zampo – dissatisfied with his nephew’s acquaintance – even commissioned her killing. Unfortunately, the young man witnessed her death by chance. Grief stricken, he accused his mother and sister of everything. Unexpectedly, on the very same night, the girl’s apparition arrived at their house. To the horror of the assembled company, she had her dinner as if nothing had happened. Then she announced that she would grant Rodrigo’s wish. This is where the story gets interrupted. In spite of terror, Alfons lies to his father that faced with a similar situation he would not be afraid. After these words he gets his father’s blessing and leaves for Madrid on the following day. This last conversation was eventually included in the abbreviated version of the film.

From the second part of The Manuscript scenes 152–169, contained on pages 407–445 of the script were removed. In the removed scenes the story of Diego Hervas and his son Błażej (Blasco Hervas) is told, shortened and modified in comparison with the novel. We learn the story thanks to the Reprobate (Blasco as the Reprobate Pilgrim) who kills old Cornandez. As one may remember from the film, Busqueroz is the witness of Cornandez’s death (and, thus, also of the story). It takes place at the fifth level of narration.

Fig. 3:Paszek’s costume before his blinding – the project by Lidia and Jerzy Skarżyńscy. Source: From the collections of the Museum of Cinematography in Łódź

The story about Hervas begins in his workshop where his lifetime masterpiece – a book of 100 volumes – lies (“it contains all of human knowledge”). The old man devoted all his life to it and now yearns to get it published (in the novel one reads that parts of the manuscript had been destroyed by rats before). Unfortunately, unaware of the masterpiece’s importance, the publisher (bookseller in the novel) named Moreno agrees to publish the book provided it is cut down to 3 volumes at the most (Potocki mentions 25). In the end, the old man dies of despair under piles of his manuscript, uttering his last words: “Nothingness, receive your prey”.

The incident is witnessed by Hervas’s son, Błażej. He also sees mysterious men in white coats with black crosses miraculously appear to take away the body of his father. Their chief among them promises to help the young ←32 | 33→man. The next day in Buen Retiro, Błażej meets Celia, Zorilla, and their mother. He takes lodgings with them and soon falls in love with the young ladies. Don Sporadoza, an army official, is his rival for the ladies’ attention but the Mysterious Stranger helps Błażej defeat Sporadoza. Furthermore, he gives Błażej magic pralines. Every woman would fall under his spell after eating them. Błażej asks the man for the sweets numerous times. When he demands money, however, the Stranger promises to grant his request provided that he signs a secret parchment with his own blood. The gullible young man hurriedly does as he is told and when he realises what happened, it is already too late. He hears diabolic laughter echoing through the air and he becomes the Reprobate.

←33 | 34→

Even this short summary of the shooting script fragments omitted in the film lets for a few conclusions to be drawn. First of all, the most gruesome plots were resigned from: the dead rising from the graves as well as a deceased girl visiting Rodrigo to fulfil his desires. Secondly, the elimination of the above-mentioned stories from the first part has slightly upset the balance of the finished work’s composition. This could be what evokes the impression that there exists a breach between the two parts of the film. The stories about Trywuld and Rodrigo would not only have complimented the thread of Alfons’s mysterious adventures (as a justification for the portrayal of skeletons and decaying bodies). They would also correspond with the stories from part II, e.g. the adventures of Cavalier of Toledo. Thirdly, the removal of Hervas’s book plot much undermined the motif of the Book throughout the film. Last but not least, there is the omission of the story about Błażej’s love to the two sisters and signing the pact with the devil (the analogy with Has’s other film should be noted here: Osobisty pamiętnik grzesznikaprzez niego samego spisany [The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner…Written by Himself]). The omission disturbed the coherence of the tripartite composition: two Mauritanians and possessed Alfons; Camilla, Inezilla and mad Pasheko; Celia, Zorilla and reprobate Błażej.

←34 |

59W. Has, Why…?, op. cit., p. 27.

60M. Walasek, op. cit., p. 9.

61K. Filimoniuk, Cinema…, op. cit., pp. 127–129.

62B. Michalak, op. cit., s. 78. Cf. also M. Kornatowska’s article on Has’s shooting scripts: “Kino”, no. 4 (1983), p. 12.

63M. Walasek, op. cit., p. 9.

64Own wings…, op. cit., p. 10.

65W. Has, The Saragossa Manuscript – the shooting script, Warszawa: Library of the National Film Archive, signature, part I and II, S-26644, S-26645.

66B. Michalak, op. cit., p. 79.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2018 (December)
polish feature film film adaptation of literature painting and film surrealism Wojciech Has Jan Potocki
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 135 pp., 33 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Iwona Grodź (Author)

Iwona Grodź received her doctorate from the Department of Film, Television and New Media of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań (Poland). Her research interests include literature, film, visual arts (paintings and photography), new media and music.


Title: Between Dream and Reality: «The Saragossa Manuscript»