Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zbigniew Cybulski, Iga Cembrzynska, Elzbieta Czyzewska, Gustaw Holoubek, Stanislaw Igar, Joanna Jedryka, Janusz Klosinski, Bogumil Kobiela, Barbara Krafftówna, Jadwiga Krawczyk, Slawomir Lindner, Krzysztof Litwin, Miroslawa Lombardo, Jan Machulski, Zdzislaw Maklakiewicz, Leon Niemczyk, Franciszek Pieczka, Beata Tyszkiewicz, Kazimierz Opalinski, Adam Pawlikowski
Written by: Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, based on a novel by Jan Potocki
Directed by: Wojciech Has
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Polish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 182
Date: 02/09/1965

The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Crazy Pages

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The reputation of this Polish, surrealist epic precedes it; Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jerry Garcia, Luis Bunuel and David Lynch are all fans. It's not quite as life-changing as all that, but it's certainly playful and very interesting as a study of narrative flow. It begins during the Napoleonic Wars as a pair of rival soldiers discovers the title manuscript. The "story" then flashes back to Alfonso van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski), who apparently weds two princesses whom he can only see in his dreams (he keeps waking up on the ground beneath the gallows). We follow Alfonso on a road trip for a while, but then he becomes a supporting character as others take over, telling their own tales. Characters inside flashbacks tell stories, which lead to other flashbacks. At one point, I think there are either four or five flashbacks inside one another. It's a movie worthy of Walter Benjamin or Jorge Luis Borges, but it's rather surprising to find that the tone is less challenging or defiant than it is silly. It's easy to see why Bunuel was a fan; the film features his kind of humor and eroticism. A team of the film's fans banded together in the 1990s to restore it to its full-length 182 minutes.

DVD Details: Facets Video is distributing the DVD for 2009 (produced by Mr. Bongo), and it looks as if it's a European release transferred to NTSC; even the box still has the British ratings on it. Unfortunately, the DVD is rather a mess. The film is perfectly watchable, but as far as I can tell it's mastered in the wrong aspect ratio. The box claims that the ratio is 2:1, though I've seen it listed elsewhere as 2.35:1. Either way, it looks more like 1.66:1, with the figures stretched out too tall, and the opening credits running right off the edge of the screen. I tried the DVD in three different players and was unable to get this ratio to change. Additionally, the sleeve -- in addition to some editing errors -- claims an "isolated music score," which I was unable to find. There's also a stills gallery.

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