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The Hourglass Sanatorium

Wojciech J. Has’ The Saragossa Manuscript (1964) is one of the few Polish films to have become an international cult favorite, in the truest sense of the word: it’s unknown to the majority of filmgoers, but those who have seen it never forget it. (It played in Buffalo about a decade ago as part of a revival series at the Market Arcade.) A virtuoso display of film narrative, it begins as an adventure story in the Napoleonic wars that loops into seemingly tangential stories, growing increasingly complex without ever losing track of where it started.

Has is a favorite of Martin Scorsese, who chose his later film The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973) as one of a series of Polish films whose restoration he oversaw. It opens with scenes that play like a surrealist adaptation of Dracula: a young man journeys on a train that looks like the anteroom to hell to an equally dilapidated sanatorium where his father is staying. Not that he’s exactly living there: dad is dead, but they haven’t told him yet. As the director tells our hero, “Here we reactivate time past with all its energies, including the possibility of recovery.” The son himself is drawn into an unpredictable experience of time, randomly moving among the present and the past of this village that no longer exists since its Jewish population was exterminated during the war.

You might compare it to Slaughterhouse 5 as adapted by Alejandro Jodorowsky, or perhaps David Lynch channeling the ghost of Fellini. But as the old saying goes, all comparisons are odious. The Hourglass Sanatorium won the Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, at a time when the world was so much more alive to the possibilities of pure cinema. It will be screened next Wednesday at 7 pm at Squeaky Wheel, 712 Main St. It is, as you probably already suspected, a presentation of the Little Red Booking film series.

Watch the trailer for The Hourglass Sanatorium

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