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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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8 Surreal Fantasy


“Everything depends on imagination and everything manifests itself through imagination” – as Louis Aragon wrote (Le Paysan de Paris). Certainly Wojciech Has could also utter these words. For him, too, the reality was only an impulse ready to inspire imagination with the strangest images. The world appeared to the author of Pętla [The Loop] similarly as to the surrealists – in experiences, impressions and oscillations. A purely rational recognition was not significant. Therefore Has would leave the orders of human consciousness in his films. From time to time, literature which he adapted turned out to be helpful in this excursions to the “side path” of human ego. It was similarly so this time.

Surrealism restored for stage and film performance its illusoriness, perspective, “distorted, large and mysterious space”. The characteristics of surrealism in the film set are as follows: houses with empty windows, apartments with tarnished curtains, empty tunnels, corpse-resembling trees, characters in wonderful but decaying costumes, the world fantastic and full of danger. This art current would also bring to the stage many metaphysical elements, e.g.: windows, trees hanging in the air. Raising the objects above the stage is a symptom of a surreal formal motif – “levitation”, initiated by the artistic work of Marc Chagall. The significant features of surreal decorations one may also notice via the stepping away from the actual pinpointing of time and space of action. Similarly, they are visible in the breakup of the space and costume, in deformations, in the dramatic anxiety150.

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