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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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7 Oriental Dream


A particularly interesting field of Has’s “pictorial imagination” in The Saragossa Manuscript is the reference to the beauty of Orient. The source of this inspiration lies in the literary prototype and travel passions of Jan Potocki. The writer placed the action of the book i.a. in Spain, which was most probably resulting from his numerous travels abroad. This country seemed fascinating to him because of the cultural diversity. Its multitude inspired not only Jan Potocki, but also indirectly Has, and the effect of it in the form of unusually exotic scenery, costumes and stage props we may admire on the screen.

Adam Garbicz called The Manuscript “an exotic arabesque”135, relating this metaphor mainly to the erotic motif of the film, associated with the princesses Emina and Zibelda. It is possible, however, to use it in a more general sense. Firstly, the arabesque as a plant ornament, originating from the Hellenist culture but very much often applied in the art of Islam, may perhaps become a synonym for the Muslim culture (therefore also for eastern sensuality). Secondly, since this term was also applied as the equivalent of visual “complicatedness” and “richness” of this art, I will apply it as a metaphorical description to everything what in the artistic layer of Has’s film is combined with the exotic splendour and with “complication” (Chinese box composition).

Piotr Wiaziemski, when recalling Jan Potocki posthumously, thus wrote about the sources for the book: “They say that he wrote it in...

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