Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Hourglass Sanatorium (Mr Bongo)

Based on the novel by Bruno Schulz, Wojciech Has' 1973 film begins in a rundown railway carriage, presided over by a blind conductor.
Jozef (Jan Nowicki) is on the way to see his ailing father Jacob (Tadeucz Kondrat) who is spending his final days at a sanatorium. Jozef encounters what first appears to be an empty, ramshackle building and soon discovers a displacement of time that gets progressively stranger.
Jozef walks through deserted corridors; a restaurant with unfinished meals and drinks, decorated by cobwebs and enveloped by a profound sense of loss. Here, time is late explains his father's Doctor, "By an interval I can't precisely define."

This is indeed a story which "goes beyond any fantasy" as Jozef is guided through a labyrinth of decay by girls from his younger days; his mother (Irene Orska); medical staff who inform him that his 'dead' father has not yet reached the final stage and colourful figures from pre-World War II eras.
Those of you who enjoy truly challenging cinema that poses many questions with few answers are in for a treat with this one.
Suppose we have already been privy to the landscapes and people we encounter in life?
Jozef has that same feeling on his own journey, seduced and unnerved by the sights and sounds he conjures up.
The director speculates that maybe we are responsible for our own dreams and nightmares, filling the roles of director, producer and primary cast member to populate the hours of sleep with a mixture of what has happened and what may happen.
Our most fervent wishes and deepest fears team up for a bewildering journey where sense of time and space are displaced, just like Has' own vision here.
Has also draws on other elements of Schulz's work here, immediately installing the author as a name to look up for those unfamiliar with his books.
For what it's worth, my own take on this film places Jozef permanently in that railway carriage, and close to death.
Everything in the film may well be his own fever dream where his life flashes before him in a combination of re-creation, profound regret and palpable fear.
The people we meet, those who cross our paths and remain unknown, and places we visit or imagine actually exist.
A lifetime rolled up into just a few minutes. Or seconds.
Has' film certainly inspires many theories and much speculation, borne out of mood and a series of rich imagery and a haunting soundtrack.
Jerzy Maksymiuk's score acts as a guide that cuts a line through places of darkness and light, perfectly tuned to the on-screen events, while the photography and set designs are striking in the extreme.

The Blu-ray transfer captures the rich costumes and interiors with striking clarity in a world of warm candlelit vigils; beautifully detailed mannequins and landscapes dusted with pure white snow.
Mr Bongo's Blu-ray is available to buy now and is region-free. It showcases a most absorbing film, and opens up a stimulating world for fans of international cinema.
Releases such as this are so very important, and I do respectfully urge you to support them.

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