Wojciech Has’ The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) is a filmmakers’ film. Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorses, Luis Bunuel, and David Lynch are among its impassioned devotees. Has’ film is also a cult favorite, no doubt helped by Jerry Garcia’s advocacy. Superlative artistry and bold originality would be reason enough for its elevated aesthetic standing, but The Saragossa Manuscript also begs description.
The methodical, brooding, short-lived Zbigniew Cybulski (Ashes and Diamonds, 1958) heads a prodigious cast that remarkably fleshes out Count Jan Potocki’s 19th century, picaresque, magical realist novel. After the discovery of the titular manuscript, The Unknown Soldier is transported in time and space joining Alfonso van Worden’s (Cybulski) on a phantasmagorical, anecdotal journey during the Napoleonic Wars. Van Worden leads his uneasy party down a depraved path through the Spanish Mountains, temporarily settling at the infamous Sierra Morena.