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Between Dream and Reality: «The Saragossa Manuscript»

An Analysis of Wojciech Jerzy Has’s Movie


Iwona Grodź

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.

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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...

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