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The late Polish director Wojceich Has is better known for his amazing
Saragosa Manuscript" which has a Chinese box structure of nested stories.
However, this film (known to english audiences as "The Sandglass"), tops
predecessor in fantastic imagery. Based on several stories of Bruno
Schultz, this film might be the most successful recreation of the inner
psyche ever commited to celluloid.
A man journeys by dilapidated train (where most of the passengers look like corpses) to visit his ailing father who is kept in a crumbling ornate sanatorium. He is told by a doctor that time exists differently there and his dying father may recover. The man experiences a flood of dreamlike visions of his past and the small Jewish town he was raised in. The father is seen both ill and as a giddy philosopher in an attic full of birds. At some point we get the creeping sensation that it is the man himself who is dying, not the father as a blind train conductor reappears like a death figure. The increasingly baroque episodes become the rich compost of a graveyard.
The film can also been seen as a requiem for the Eastern European Jewish culture that was wiped out by WW2. It isn't an accident that the protagonist is named Joseph and his father Jacob. Many of the films episodes evoke Jewish symbolism.
Did I watch this film or did I dream it. This may be your initial response after watching "the Hourglass Sanatorium". Those who are fans of Fellini, Jodorowsky, Peter Greenaway and Andrej Zulawski will feel right at home. Originally the film was based on a novel, and the story deals with a man who takes a train to see his sick father at a sanatorium. The sanatorium feels Gothic and abandoned. Time seems to be non existent there. Since time has slowed down the father goes on living and the son gets lost in the many rooms of the sanatorium. His journey is as comical as it is frightening. Memories and history become reality and the main character walks throughout many strange scenarios from the past and from his childhood. A simple action like crawling under a bed, can transfer him to a different time and place. Among the strange images in the film which are the most breathtaking are, the Jewish Rabbis breaking out into a song number, people who are part human and part wax figures, dead zombie like soldiers, people in strange bird masks, elephants, and odd philosophical discussions. This is one movie that is so complex and confusing that if you miss 1 minute (or even if you don't miss anything) you'll feel lost. After the film was over, I was left scratching my head; it was like I had just woken up from a bizarre dream. This is one of the most breathtakingly surreal film experiences I have ever had. Film is a visual art, so words can't come close to describing "the Hourglass Sanitorium". You have to see it for yourself!
Based on a story collection of the same name by Bruno Schulz, who was shot by the Gestapo in 1942, this movie is one of the rare cases of a congenial adaptation of modern fantastic literature. It's a demanding movie and it is impossible to extract something like a plot line. There are various changes in between time and space, but once you get involved with the narrative, they seem perfectly logical. Also, there are many highly impressive sequences and settings - i have read somewhere (i can't give no reference right now, sorry) that it was the most expensive movie ever made in Poland, and maybe it still is. It certainly is one of the best. And, by the way, there is one scene with a room stuffed full of mannequins that looks like an inspiration to a similar sequence in Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", which is a great movie of its kind, but was made some years later and did much better at the box office.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wojciech Has must have created one of the most unique and enigmatic
movies I've ever seen. Inspired by Bruno Schulz' novel, Has invites the
viewer to journey with Jozef to a decrepit sanatorium where his father
is living. But it doesn't take long for the viewer to realise the
journey isn't taking place in any definitive place or time. The
sanatorium is a cobweb-filled, deserted, wasting place where only a
nurse and a doctor work.
As Jozef arrives, he finds his father living in a sort of animated suspension. He should be dead, the doctor tells him, but time in the sanatorium works differently. And Jozef soon realises just how differently. The story begins to move from place to place and time to time randomly. Jozef can find himself crawling under a bed in his house only to come out somewhere else.
The movie is full of fascinating and creepy imagery. There's a great sequence in which Jozef visits a room full of mannequins that come to live. At another time, he's surrounded by men dressed as birds. The art direction and settings are beautiful throughout the movie, possibly the most intricate ever brought to a movie. Everything has a feeling of decadence, of a world where mankind stopped living a long time ago. In a way it seems Jozef is just a dead soul reliving parts of his life and all time and space are unified in this place of memory. Maybe. This is the type of movie that doesn't offer one single interpretation. But trying to make sense of it is part of the fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sandwiched somewhere between David Lynch and Luis Bunuel is Wojciech
Has, a little known Polish director responsible for "The Saragossa
Manuscript" and "The Hourglass Sanatorium", two rather grand exercises
"The Hourglass Sanatorium", which might as well be called "Alice in Shoahland", concerns the journey of Jozef, a man who arrives at a derelict sanatorium after an exhausting train journey. Two minutes into the film, and already we're assaulted by a barrage of symbolism. The train represents a shuttle for dead or dying souls. It's a gateway to "the sanatorium", a sort of limbo where life and death commingle before one is shunted permanently off into the afterlife. On another level, the train represents the carriages used to transport Polish Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust.
So this is a film which not only deals with a dead Jozef stumbling through the memories, events and fantasies of his life, but a film about the culture of a pre-World War 2 Europe. Or rather, the film mirrors Jozef's mental and bodily disintegration to the way Poland crumbled during and after the Holocaust. As the film progresses Jozef will lose his eyesight whilst the world around him likewise falls apart, objects in the sanatorium becoming increasingly claustrophobic, closed and nailed shut, as if ready to be taken away.
But the film offers not only a historical, cultural and personal perspective on death and the passage of time, but a kind of subconscious look at the way Jozef's relationship with his father throughout his life forced him to confront, not only his own mortality, but the perishability of all things.
As the film progresses, we're thus treated to an Alice in Wonderland styled journey in which Jozef bumbles from one strange set piece to the next. Only after multiple viewings do these sequences coalesce into meaning, the film serving up episodes in which Jozef re-experiences events from his life in an increasingly psychedelic fashion. Encounters with naked women, dead Jews, Nazi camps, erotic fantasies, Yiddish chants, memories of his mother, his home, his father, his father's textile shop (a meeting place for Jewish men), his marriage, being disciplined as a child, the encroachment of war and an extended sequence filled with mannequins, clockwork dolls and motionless historical figures, are all thoroughly confusing until your brain starts sorting through all the symbolic information.
On top of this is a subplot which seems to suggest that Jozef's father was killed by the Nazis for assisting or hiding Jews in some way, but the film's intricately linked web of symbols are so esoteric that it's hard to get a read of things. With audiences so unfamiliar to this kind of filmic language, such a film is likely to only appeal to a very narrow range of people.
Adapted from a book by Bruno Shulz, a victim of the Nazis, the film is, at its best, an unconscious (or repressed?) look at the traumas of the Holocaust as well as a journey through the memories of a man who tumbles through time on his deathbed. At its worst, however, this is a film almost opaque in its symbolism. So if you aren't phased by Jodorowsky's "The Holy Mountain", Tarkovsky's "Nostalghia", Bergman's "Hour of the Wolf", Greenaway's "Prospero's Book" and Lynch's "Inland Empire", then give Wojciech Has a taste. If not, stick to drugs.
8/10 Requires multiple viewings. One has to start with Tarkovsky, Greenaway and Lynch before tackling this beast. See "Night and Fog", "Hotel Terminus" and Melville's "Army of Shadows".
I didn't even know about existence of this gem, I came across it by chance. Long time ago I've read short story by Polish writer Bruno Schulz named Sanatorium under the Clepsydra and appreciated it greatly so I was lucky to find this excellent film adaptation. A son goes to visit his ill father in some mysterious sanatorium in reality his father died but in this bizarre sickbay he continues to live due to some shift of time backward. In fact all the times there are merged and he meets himself younger and sees his old dead mother and takes part in all kinds of affairs occurring someplace between nightmare and reverie. The Hour-Glass Sanatorium perfectly opposed the passage of time as if this film itself has been placed into some timeless capsule.
This is a film that will either absorb or exasperate, depending on one's temper. It mostly exasperated me, but many of its images have stayed with me, and I think viewers who have the patience for, say, Strindberg's "Dream Play" will enjoy its corkscrew narrative. Many may be amused, as I was, by the highly shadowed, highly colored Gothic decor but may have difficulty, as I did, staying the course. The synopsis above is slightly misleading on one count: The old man in the sanatorium is or would be dead in the real world, but his death would be financially inconvenient to the family and so his son is paying to have him kept in the enclosed world of the sanatorium, where time moves more slowly and he can stay alive indefinitely. The film begins like a horror movie, with the protagonist taking an eerily populated train to the ruined sanatorium. But once he's taken care of his business there both he and the story wander into a series of absurdist-picaresque adventures, set in scenes from his memory and imagination (apparently: some are quasi-historical, and his father appears in one of them as a young man). They grow and flower and intertwine with one another as they would in a dream or a reverie, until at last the protagonist arrives back where he started and finds out his fate after all. That seemed arbitrary to me; and why the place should have led him where it did, literally or symbolically, I don't really know; and to my taste the film is so boldly stated as to be a little cheap. But it still has a way of floating around inside the head for a long time after. And if enough people were interested enough by it, the process of identifying and interpreting its cornucopia of allusions and symbols could fuel a semester's worth of late-night discussions.
"Sanatorium pod klepsydra" is a surreal assault on the senses and perhaps one of the most beautifully shot Polish movies ever made.It's based on the remarkable collection of stories 'Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass' written by Bruno Schultz.Our protagonist Josef(Jan Nowicki)travels on a dilapidated and mysterious train to visit his father at a decayed sanatorium in the middle of the Polish countryside.His journey into a tangled world of real and imagined experiences begins.Extremely stylish and surreal mind trip is the best way to describe "Hourglass Sanatorium".Filled with elaborate set-pieces and philosophical dialogue the world imagined by Bruno Schultz is truly one of its kind.The sleazy shots of half-naked women are a nice touch and the glimpse into Jewish culture is fascinating.A must-see for fans of bizarre and unusual cinema.The wax mannequins sequence is stunningly beautiful.9 out of 10.
At the day of writing this, the great Chilean filmmaker Raoul Ruiz
passed away. This is dedicated to him - a film, I like to think, he
would have loved.
This is an exceptional film that I will cherish for a number of reasons. It's the kind of film I'm looking for, that places consciousness within itself to give us actual in-sight of our place in the world of narratives.
For afar, it is a little like Jodorowsky; the heavy, symbolist system visualized inside a cacophony. But it ventures freely beyond the threshold where Jodorowsky (and most filmmakers) barely fumbled; it is a story about unconscious stories about the broader metaphysical narrative from which they flow and illustrate.
It begins with the promise of a journey, a common motif in early myth; a man's symbolic descent in the underworld in search of his father. But a little preamble first.
It is said that the best kept secret in our systematized knowledge of the world, is that the narrative of the world is one. It has been fractured from the one into many, according to the provincial peculiarities of human experience, yet taken together each of the symbolic motifs or shadowy shapes that comprise it, insinuate the same fabric of the experienced world.
I'm not just waxing here, what I mean is this; it would be an astonishing coincidence, for example, if the symbolic rites and totems that instructed social life in early tribal societies had merely chanced to re-emerge so faithfully as dream images in a modern society where the earlier symbolic language has been largely rationalized or explained away. The same images, the same narratives, seem to bubble forth in identical repetition; as though something in the soul calls out for them.
Two observations further elucidate this. In the places that ancient cities were built like temples, with clearly defined pattern that reflected above (usually in circles), denizens lived within the dimensions of their symbol. They were situated directly inside the blueprint of their cosmology, one they had constructed to reflect the cosmos.
The reverse of this is the mandala of the Buddhists, as sacred space for the concentration of the mind. The image was not the painted sum of its counterparts, but a way of passage. Meditations practiced on this symbol are directed from the symbolic world into the world at large; so that, outside the temple, the entire world becomes a support for meditation.
In the film, it is the cosmologic blueprint that becomes situated inside the person.
On a deeper level, both these describe the same thing; the spiritual effort of aligning the center inside with the center outside, so that the cycles of life become one. Can we say this is the forgotten knowledge? Modern life is scattered in the chaos of ever-changing peripheries. We build - and live - in random.
So this is what the filmmaker does. Our man, having embarked on his inner journey, is constantly frustrated by the apparent randomness of the narrative he participates in. He turns for guidance to a child, an inner child who is his heir in the dreamlike underworld, holding a book filled with stamps about places - a book of names and forms that symbolically encompasses the totality of the catalogued world; but there is no answer there, meaning another world extends from our catalogue of it which cannot be fully accounted for.
And herein lies the key. From inside his limited perspective in the fictional world, the protagonist is baffled, exasperated for meaning. But we, observing from the level of gods, can recognize first pattern, and then that the protagonist, who seems to himself to be a hapless stooge, to be the one creating the narrative.
It is stunning stuff if you contemplate it a little. There are, of course, the notions about nested stories. The journey that transports across different levels of symbolic life; there is the place where history is a gallery of the pliable, lifeless mannequins of famous persons; elsewhere, language is shown to be the random teetering of birds.
All this - at every turn - is weaved inside the one narrative, such a wonderful construct overall.
So, there is the world, the space of human experience limited by mechanisms of reason; our symbolic translation in terms of a graven image; our metaphoric understanding of the image as applicable to both the personal and cosmic cycles (being-nonbeing, light-dark); our metaphysical grasp of the meaning of those cycles within the larger cycle of sentience that observes them; and finally, the threshold once crossed and returned from, the unbound sentience now effortlessly understands all these things to be emanations of the one source, the one cycle-narrative.
Having aligned all these cycles, the film is - at every point - at the center of each and all.
This is what is actually valuable about meditation. It is the very embodiment of the passage within. We realize inside, that it was only coincidence from within the limited view of human observation; from above, that is to say outside the obstructions of emotion and reason, this coincidence of opposites becomes harmonious plan.
When Zen Masters sung that the entire world was like the moon reflected in the evening dewdrops, they point to this; that this one image cast from a reflection above, would not be possible without the image above to cast the reflection. In this way, the entire experienced world as perceived by us, reflects on us the source of everything. True perception is this effort to embody in seeing.
It is amazing that so many people can see this film without realizing that its subtext and central subject is the Shoah (Holocaust); its unspeakable and incomprehensible enormity in the mind, especially in Communist Poland where the memory of that history was somewhat suppressed. This is really the best fictional treatment of the Shoah on film, because of its indirection in dealing with this terrible subject. It is simultaneously an adaptation of a literary work by a victim of the Nazis, Bruno Shulz, who explored the world and imagery of the unconscious, fantastic and dreams like no other. It is probably the best evocation of this world ever committed to film. The film will be tedious to some, but those willing to immerse themselves in it will emerge, like the protagonist, forever changed by the experience. By the way, this film is NOT set in prewar Poland, but in some indeterminate time after the war. Where Shulz was the prewar victim haunted by memories of his father and childhood, the protagonist in this film is the postwar survivor haunted by the fate of his own father's generation - and world.
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