Friday, January 23, 2015

Honourable Mention: the Saragossa Manuscript

Directed by Wojciech Has and released in 1965, the Saragossa Manuscript is a cinematic version of Jan Potocki’s opus the Manuscript Found in Saragossa.

You will recall that this book received an Honourable Mention as the novel, which was released piecemeal between 1805 and 1815, did mention vampires but they were, more than anything, a fleeting visitation within the novel.

In the case of the movie the vampires, the Zoto Brothers, are present (as they are a main opening plot device) but never mentioned as vampires. You might recall that the novel mentions the difference between the vampires of Hungary and Poland to the vampires of Spain (the previous mention relays the full quote). That quote is partly given in film but the English subtitles say zombie rather than vampire – it is also not clear that the dialogue refers to the Zoto Brothers.

the manuscript
So the film itself has a book found (the manuscript is not created in exactly the same way) and then we go back in time to see the adventures of Alfonse Van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski) a new Captain of the Walloon Guard. The adventures he has, and the stories he hears, are selectively but accurately lifted from the novel text. However the conspiracy wrapped around him is much more explicit, sometimes even farcical, and the complexity of stories within stories curtailed.

with the cousins
He does, however, encounter his Muslim cousins Zibelda (Joanna Jedryka) and Emina (Iga Cembrzynska) and, following this, awakens under the gallows of the Zoto brothers, faced with the prospect of being haunted by them and wondering whether his cousins are real or actually the undead brothers haunting him in another shape. The brothers are seen in action when we hear the story of Pancheco (Franciszek Pieczka) the demoniac.

the Zoto brothers with the eye
The actions of the Zoto’s are more akin to a haunting than vampirism – though, of course, poltergeist-like activity was an aspect of some vampire folklore – and physically dangerous as they pluck out the amorous young Pancheco’s eye. Their victims are bedevilled by the pair – who sometimes take the form of seductive women and at other times appear as the rotting corpses of the hanged pair – until, if Pancheco’s tale is consistent with all victims, they go mad (or are possessed, as the hermit (Kazimierz Opalinski) would have it).

under the gallows
An excellent three hour movie, split into two parts, that is perhaps even more humorous than the novel. If I felt the novel was more Baron Munchausen than Arabian Nights, then certainly this film is. It draws caricature characters in places, which adds to the absurdist feel (especially in the case of Alfonse’s father (Slawomir Lindner) ). Well worth your time and of genre interest – even if the ‘vampires’ do nothing recognisably vampiric and are not mentioned as such in subtitles.

The imdb page is here.

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