Monday, July 27, 2009

review: sanatorium pod klepsydra (the sandglass)

The Hourglass opens in a railway car filled with Jewish refugees and whatever belongings they've managed to hold onto -- keep an eye on these characters, as we'll see them again, as this is not so much a film as a nest of fugues. For a film based on the works of Bruno Schulz, who was shot dead in the street by an Nazi officer in 1942, it's probably not reading too much into the subtext of Wojciech Has's film to see this scene, and other additions not in the original stories, as a kind of consideration of the Holocaust, but this isn't the sort of film that makes direct statements. If you've seen Has's adaptation of The Saragossa Manuscript (based on another of my favorite books) you know he works as a fantasist, a builder of intricate phantasmagoria, and that's exactly what you're in for here. There is no getting past the scent of death, however -- Jozef travels to a sanatorium to see his father, arriving via the graveyard only to discover that his father does not know he is dead. As soon as Jozef enters the building people consider him a child and treat him as such, immediately in the shadow of his father (even staying in his father's room), and as he wanders the sanatorium it becomes unclear if he is a visitor or a patient, reenacting his childhood when not discussing his situation with an increasingly deranged cast -- while the story obviously remains in Schulz's spirit, I suspect this may be the closest we'll ever come to a film of Roussel's Locus Solus. Imagine The Mansion of Madness without the questionable attempts at dark humor crossed with Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting and you're close. Jozef is constantly haunted by the conductor from the train at the beginning, until finally he becomes the conductor, and of the ending I will say no more. This might all sound a bit bleak and obtuse, but don't worry -- even if you don't go in for these literary layers there's endlessly beautiful tracking shots of dilapidated Art Nouveau architecture, clockwork automata, bizarre recursive film tricks, and quite a bit of rather astonishing nudity (particularly if, like me, you have a thing for Eastern European women), so there's plenty here for everyone, unless you dislike "slow" or "arty" films, in which case go fuck yourself. It's a travesty that a quality region I dvd of this film does not exist, something which should be rectified as soon as possible. As such it might take a little tracking down to find a copy, but trust me, it's worth it.

(this is just a quick note; i'm working on a proper review of this for The Temple of the Matmos)

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