Close Up

13 April 2019: The Hourglass Sanatorium


The Hourglass Sanatorium
Wojciech Jerzy Has, 1973, 125 min
Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew and Latin with English subtitles

"An anxious man visits his ailing – perhaps deceased – father in a mysterious sanatorium that becomes a kind of dream-machine, where time and space possess a strange plasticity, and ghosts of the past and future join in a hypnotic dance. One of the great masterpieces of Seventies art cinema and the crowning expression of Has' visionary cinema, The Hourglass Sanatorium is also a remarkable example of his alternate and evocative approach to literary adaptation. Has' film is not based on the eponymous story by Bruno Schulz, but rather draws freely – yet always faithfully – from two renown books of short stories by the modernist writer in order to capture the mystical spirit, dark humor and sense of impending doom which defines the long overlooked but now revered Jewish author's stories. The film embodies not only Has' belief in the dynamic and restorative dialogue possible between cinema and literature, but also the subtle and poetic political address of his films – here with Has (who was himself half-Jewish) pointedly evoking the vanquished world of the pre-World War II Jewish Poland in direct response to the harsh anti-Semitic purges that followed 1968 uprisings. It was only by openly defying the official ban immediately imposed on the film by Communist authorities and smuggling The Hourglass Sanatorium to Cannes – where it won the Jury Prize – that Has earned a kind of international recognition he had been largely denied. Has' provocative and ethereal use of color and editing were finally restored in the recent "digital reconstruction" of the film presented now." – Harvard Film Archive

Part of Kinoteka: Witold Sobociński