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The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)
"Sanatorium pod klepsydra" (original title)

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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 1,647 users  
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Set in pre-World War II era. A young man is on a strange train to see his dying father in a sanatorium. But the place is going to ruin and recalls a lot of memories from the past. He is ... See full summary »


(as Wojciech J. Has)


(as Wojciech J. Has) , (story)
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Title: The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jan Nowicki ...
Tadeusz Kondrat ...
Jakub - Józef's father
Irena Orska ...
Józef's mother
Halina Kowalska ...
Gustaw Holoubek ...
Dr. Gotard
Mieczyslaw Voit ...
Blind Conductor
Bozena Adamek ...
Ludwik Benoit ...
Henryk Boukolowski ...
Seweryn Dalecki ...
Julian Jabczynski ...
Jerzy Przybylski ...
Mr. de Voss
Wiktor Sadecki ...
Janina Sokolowska ...
Wojciech Standello ...
Jew Interlocutor in Restaurant


Set in pre-World War II era. A young man is on a strange train to see his dying father in a sanatorium. But the place is going to ruin and recalls a lot of memories from the past. He is beset by soldiers from the past, colonial black mercenaries, girls from his early life, and his parents. It is an interior adventure, with unusual atmospheric flair and extraordinary sets. Written by Polish Cinema Database <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Fantasy


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Release Date:

12 December 1973 (Poland)  »

Also Known As:

The Hourglass Sanatorium  »

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Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
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Did You Know?


Despite the communist authorities' ban on the film, it was in secret sent to Cannes in film cans with false inscriptions on them. Because of this incident, Has couldn't make any movie for the next 8 years. See more »

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User Reviews

Plays with the concept of time – by making 2 hours seem like 5 weeks.
27 December 2014 | by (Serbia) – See all my reviews

How Mark Twain and Danilo Kis would have torn this pretentious nonsense apart in scathing reviews.

The first 15 minutes are deceitfully promising, with the mysterious mood and the excellent sets somewhat reminiscent of movies such as "Stalker". Once whassisname gets to the Sanitarium (or whatever the hell it is), HS sets itself up as a Kafkaesque drama, in which some sort of a time-warp seems to be dominating the premises. Or at least it seems to be Kafka-like. It isn't.

Soon HS disintegrates into surrealist farce – which is the same as a mainstream farce but devoid of laughs. The hero has dozens of meaningless conversations with real or imagined (irrelevant which) dullards, all of whom babble about obscure or inconsequential piffle. HS is one of those highly ambitious yet intellectually hollow art-fart Euro-trash flicks designed to please critics (and film-students who are forever enslaved by critics), while fully ignoring the needs of any sane viewer – and by that I don't mean people who seek out "Porky's" every time they pick a movie. I'm all for an intelligent story/concept, provided it really IS intelligent, and not just TRYING to appear "deep".

HS is one of many such 60s/70s European art-flicks that utilize the ultimate 20th-century art-world hoax, the "Picasso con". You know the charlatan drill: create something pointless and meaningless – yet very importantly ABSTRACT - and then sit and wait for pompous intellectual wannabes to rush into the room, injecting their subjective, ludicrous interpretations into the whole empty mess. The "Picasso con" works precisely because it preys on man's biggest enemy: his own fear. In this case, it is the fear of being thought of as stupid and/or uncultured. In a world in which status means everything (to certain people at least), few people are confident enough to speak out against pretentious drivel they don't understand. Therein lies the catch: there is nothing to understand. The movie is what it appears to be: an almost random collection of scenes and dialogues that are somehow supposed to be profound merely because they are full of fortune-cookie aphorisms, mostly superficial philosophical musings, and historical references.

So consumed was the 1974 Cannes Festival jury with this fear that they might look like jackasses for failing to make head or tails of this "grand, poetic work" that they copped out by giving HS the Grand Jury Prize – which is usually awarded to awful movies, I might add.

When it comes to those consummate liars and fakers - the movie critics – abstract imagery and endless existentialist gobbledygook is often all you need in your "allegorical" surrealist malarkey to get your thumbs up. As for the film-students, well, they simply "enjoy" whatever critics and their movie professors tell them to; they are mindless sheep, seeking to convince both themselves and their surroundings that they are high-brow intellectuals whose opinions matter and that nobody should ever dare underrate the exquisite depth of reason and imagination one needs in order to be an A-grade film student. In reality, Film Schools are low-brow, more in line with African History Studies, and the like; this explains the strong urge to prove oneself worthy of respect.

It is almost scary (but also fascinating and hilarious) to consider that so many film buffies, and other film-studenty type of human debris, have so successfully been brainwashed by the cultural movie establishment that they have actually learned to train themselves to sit through these kinds of two-hour drags and then even boast (lie) later how much they'd enjoyed them. But no amount of pseudo-intellectual BS can hide the roots of these movies, because the roots are showing from all sides.

Nor do film-students, film-buffies and film-critics differentiate between quality surrealism ("O Lucky Man!", for example) and low-grade, empty-headed nonsense (this Polish crap). It is all the same to them. It is as though the genre itself – the surrealist allegorical abstract drama (sounds "fancy", doesn't it?) – is enough by definition to give any such film the "official seal of approval for intellectual excellence" from the esteemed, confused, fearful movie community. Many vastly overrated directors (check out my "Overrated Directors" list) have built their entire careers on such obvious charlatanry. Think about it: it's much easier to write a script that has neither a structure not a plot (or at least only a vague one) and to simply glue together a bunch of scenes in which wide-eyed overactors dish out quotes from Nietzsche and Rousseau and make references to greats of literature and art.

Surely breasts are art? Nearly every actress in the movie shows her bazookas – in the name of art, naturally. One of the few good things about "surrealist" cinema: if you want tits, you'll find them here.

Going back to "Stalker"; perhaps if HS had no buffoonery, especially from its protagonist, and if it had a more eerie, mysterious mood – and a "somewhat" more finely-tuned script (or just A script as opposed to a lack of one), then perhaps this could have been a great movie. As it is, we've got great sets, nice photography, but not much else. Unless you believe that randomly injected philosophical discussions and occasional lines of pretentious poetry can ever possibly serve as a valid replacement for a story.

Believe it or not, there is one fart joke here, but in the non-skilled hands of film-critic spin-doctoring, I am sure even this basic bodily function can be interpreted as having vast layers of profundity. The world, after all, is full of false interpretations of riddles, with very few correct or sane interpretations. Trouble is, in order to interpret something you need to have a meaning to begin with, otherwise you're just indulging your own fantasies, making up things as you go along.

OK, enough of this rant. I'm off now to get a few laughs by reading the 10-star reviews here.

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