Between Dream and Reality: «The Saragossa Manuscript»

An Analysis of Wojciech Jerzy Has’s Movie

by Iwona Grodź (Author)
©2018 Monographs 138 Pages


The book features a detailed analysis and interpretation of «The Saragossa Manuscript» (1964) by Wojciech Jerzy Has. The interpretative key is the director’s reference to the aesthetics of various art trends, starting with baroque, through romanticism, symbolism, surrealism and the culture of Orient. The artistic references named here which to a high degree can be brought down to quotations and hints (the composition of stop-frames referring to the style of a given painter or an art trend) are to a large extent the consequence of having been adapted by a particular novel (Jan Potocki). Notwithstanding, also this time Has stigmatised the project with his own style by referring to the aesthetics of surrealism which was alien to the literary prototype.

Table Of Contents

  • 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This analogy is no longer in effect, however, when one compares the films’ artistic values.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.


ISBN (Hardcover)
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»