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HOURGLASS SANATORIUM, THE (SANATORIUM POD KLEPSYDRA) (director/writer: Wojciech J. Has; screenwriter: based on the novel ”The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass” by Bruno Schultz; cinematographer: Witold Sobocinski; editor: Janina Niedzwiecka; music: Jerzy Maksymiuk; cast: Jan Nowicki (Jozef), Tadeusz Kondrat(Jakob – Józef’s father), Irena Orska (Józef’s mother), Mieczyslaw Voit(Blind Conductor), Gustow Holoubek (Dr. Gotard), Janina Sokolowska (Nurse), Halina Kowalska (Adela), B. Mierzejewski (wax Figure of Franz Josef), W. Nowak (Archduke Maximilian); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Polish Corporation for Film Production, Silesia Film Unit; Mr. Bongo Films-PAL- Region 2; 1973-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles)
This mind fuck arthouse pic is not for the casual filmgoer or those who demand a linear story.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Polish director/writer Wojciech J. Has (“The Saragossa Manuscript”) bases this head-spinning surreal road movie, one where Luis Bunuel, Terry Gilliam and Peter Greenaway would probably feel quite at home, on a number of the unfilmable short stories found in ”The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass” by the Polish-Jewish author Bruno Schulz. During Hitler’s 1942 occupation of Poland, the SS army murdered Schulz.

It’s set in an unnamed Eastern European country in pre-World War II. The plotless, slow-paced and sleep-inducing pic consists of a series of amazing haunted images that are thrown together without any sense of logic or rhyme. They remain for the most part as a weird and obscure window opening to the mind and psyche. This mind fuck arthouse pic is not for the casual filmgoer or those who demand a linear story.

Jozef (Jan Nowicki) travels by train–surrounded by a blind conductor (Mieczyslaw Voit), corpse-like Hasidim and naked women–to visit his ailing elderly shopkeeper father Jakob (Tadeusz Kondrat) in a remote country sanatorium that is half-abandoned and crumbling. With a straight face the doctor (Gustow Holoubek) caring for Jakob tells Jozef that he has managed to alter time to keep his father alive, but his dad is really dead. From hereon the pic drifts aimlessly from one odd setting to another. It covers such settings that reflect Jozef’s memories as a child dealing with his nagging mom (Irena Orska), dealing with his childhood girlfriends, running from colonial Haitian black mercenaries, avoiding unfriendly soldiers from the past, reviewing the history lessons of his youth by mulling over the wax figures of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph (B. Mierzejewski) and the Archduke Maximilian (W. Nowak), recalling his sexual fantasies, playing back in his mind well-known biblical parables, and showing concern about the increasing hostile climate for Jews in the Poland before Hitler’s invasion. The scene that takes the cake for being the nuttiest, has Jozef crawl under a bed in the sanatorium and emerge from the other side into a crowded Polish village where the Jews dance and chant together and where Jozef’s father is miraculously alive and well. If that weren’t enough of a show-stopper, many of the residents are dressed as giant birds.

To grok this film, I believe each viewer must study on their own the film’s disturbing personal, religious and historic content and grapple with all the unwieldy images that started making more sense to me only after a few viewings. In any case, you’ve been warned of what you’re in for if you are one of the few who choose to see such a rarity in surreal filmmaking.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”