Monday, 7 November 2016

Hourglass Sanatorium

Or Sanatorium pod Klepsydra as it would have been known in Polish, directed by Wojciech Has.  This will be a hard film to digest for most viewers I would imagine, but I decided to give it a go nonetheless.  The plot is almost impossible to describe, but to attempt a synopsis: a traveller arrives at a dilapidated building where his father has died, or is about to die...  There he is told by a doctor that time operates differently and whilst his father may be dead from where Joseph has travelled, that's not necessarily the case here.  Joseph then proceeds to traverse deeper into a dreamlike world from one strange locale to another, from one odd encounter to the next.

A near overwhelming exercise in surrealist cinema, Hourglass Sanatorium is a film that lives outside of the time (1973) in which it was made.  I have to admit that most of the symbolic imagery goes over my head, and perhaps this composition of subversive ideas is something that academics will revel in.  Despite its long running time (just over two hours) I think it's worth the rest of us sticking with, because the final scenes suggest what's going on with the lost soul of Joseph.  I understand the film is also allegorical of the Jewish plight during the thirties and forties although again I am not knowledgeable enough on such historical matters to appreciate the film in this respect.
What I can say is that the imagery contained within is extremely powerful - the cinematography combined with production design is a monumental achievement all round, with rich and evocative visuals playing on the senses in almost every frame.  The sound design is also notable in its ability to construct atmosphere.  I do hope to revisit the film again with the aim of deciphering its esoteric narrative details.

British company Mr Bongo have recently put the film out on disc, and I picked up the Blu-ray for this viewing.  It is extras-free unfortunately - I say that because often films that don't really need much explanation arrive with plenty of interviews, etc., whereas something that could really do with some insightful exposition comes along with nothing at all.  Then again, it could be said that this might encourage people to interpret the material themselves, though I suspect most contemporary viewers are a little too lazy for that.  The 1.85:1 full HD image on the Blu-ray is exemplary, with enticing detail/chromatics supported by what is likely to be the best possible audio given the era of production (it's here in DTS HD MA 5.1 but the sound really is centred largely at the front).  Audio is Polish language only, with excellent English language subtitles.  As an import option, there is also quite a nice Polish digibook edition which is English-friendly (apart from the bundled Polish booklet) and can be picked up for a reasonable price at time of writing.

One to give a chance if you're feeling brave and experimental - if so, the Blu-ray is the way to go.

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