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The film depicts its protagonist, Joseph (Jan Nowicki), traveling through a dream-like world, taking a dilapidated train to visit his dying father in a sanatorium. When he arrives at the hospital, he finds the entire facility is going to ruin and no one seems to be in charge, or even caring for the patients. Time appears to behave in unpredictable ways, reanimating the past in an elaborate artificial caprice. Written by
Striking but odd attempts at comedy and slack pace and length become tedious
The director, as he did with Sargosso Manuscript, seems more interested in trying for comic surreal than drama/horror or psychological depth.
This is not to say that Surrealism doesn't work when it has a comic edge, but that this director doesn't do surreal comedy that well, while when he gets serious, and visual he's so good you just wish he'd really stick with that.
As in the previous film the more serious aspects are the best elements, this film is more impressive visually but a good part of that is that it's in color. I admit the first time I saw this film I thought quite highly of it and in seeing it again I thought it would get even better as I'd understand more of how the pieces came together and what they meant. But after a long gap between viewings the film almost fell apart for me. Despite a powerful wrap up sequence.
After a strong start the script just doesn't come together or feel like it's rushing into nightmare or meaning, it plods along. Some of the episodes just seem pointless--especially the soldiers near the boat and the manikin sequence. These set pieces aren't really that funny and go on forever. And most of the manikins are obviously people trying to stand still so you end up watching to see them breath or move when you should be reading subtitles. Another thing about the attempts at antic bizarre comedy is that these are the talkiest sections of the film, really almost like a stage play in these spots.
These have nothing to do with the core story which is the man and his father sort of loose in time. At one point the son talking to his father says these various episodes are "hard to discern, the meaning." He's got that right!
The Jewish seuqences and elements are interesting--especially coming from a Communist country at the time it was made is praise worthy.
And yes indeed Blade Runner owes this film a debt.
But aside from the stunning sets and transitions you just don't know what is going on some of the time and with a film that is a bit over 2 hours in length you just stop caring. You can still sit there and marvel at the images, but this is not enough. It's almost like footage cut out of a great movie because it didn't advance the story.
The film also tends to get really talky in spots. The best moments and sequences are silent. The whole thing feels like a missed opportunity despite some great silent sequences and a great core idea, it doesn't hold you or hold together for the whole length. Opening and closing sequences are the best though there are scattered images and an excellent, if sparsely placed, music score. For the record there is also a fair amount of female nudity involving a brothel, though this too seems a bit forced after awhile and is played with a leering comic quality never with any erotic intent.
Though it has some great dream images it fails ultimately to convince us there is a dream logic at work here.
All in all an almost fascinating film that becomes frustrating instead. Have to fault the script as all the elements on a production level were there ready to make a great film, but as is so often the case you need a great script to make a great movie no matter what genre.
One final note I have read THE SARGOSSA MANUSCRIPT, I have not read the source material to this film, so I make an assumption about the director's interest in comedic twists rather than more serious horrific ones based on what he did with the first film and book.
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