1973 film based on the short story by Bruno Schulz brings back the forgotten time and place of Poland's pre-war shtetls
Józef arrives at the Hourglass Sanatorium run by Doctor Gotard, where his father, deceased but restored to life in a different dimension of time, is staying. Józef travels to "various loops of past time" - the years of his childhood and fantastic dreams - and his family house, father's shop, Jewish town come to life. Stamp collections and stories from newspaper-printed novels in installments bring back uncanny, nostalgic images. A repeated time loop attempt reveals, however, the world of the Jewish shtetl and culture destroyed and depopulated by the Holocaust.
One of visually most beautiful and original Polish films, a poetic reflection on the passing of time and irreversibility of death. Has has shown on the screen the universe of a dreams incrusted with splinters of childhood memories spanning such elements as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the culture of Jewish towns of easternmost areas of Poland, and dreams of a young boy.
- Jan Słodowski, Dictionary of Polish Feature Films, Warszawa 1997
The use of the dream convention provides a narrative unity combined with a poetic dimension. As there is no clear reference to a dream, there is no external reality to oppose the reality of the dream. It is only Józef's behaviour that is indicative of his dreaming. Józef seems to be a demiurge, surpassing his father both physically and with regard to family hierarchy and surpassing his mother and all other characters except the ticket inspector and doctor Gotard. He moves through subsequent situations and scenes without taking part, and leaves before they have fully developed: 'there are things which cannot fully happen. They are too big to be accommodated in an event, and too wonderful. They only try to happen' (Bruno Schulz, 'Księga' / 'The Book'). The seemingly trivial activities, such as looking through a frosted window, crawling under the chair, bending to take up a butterfly, climbing a wall cause unforeseen consequences, with Józef suddenly finding himself somewhere else, moved to a new dream area which is mysteriously adjacent to the previous one. And so it is time that may become the film's central character.
-Anne Guerin Castell, Kwartalnik Filmowy 1997
When he decided to take Schulz's stories to the screen, Has had to face a fundamental fact: the calamities of the last war swept away small towns of the Poland's eastern territories and their populations; the attics, cellars and shops where one could safely immerse in stagnant bays of time are no longer there; the continuum of metamorphoses got irreversibly broken. There is no follow up. Whatever was, is and will be no more. Apparently, Has decided to make a film after Schulz - but also, to an extent, against him, stretching a horizon of the irreversible holocaust over the town from the fine writer's dream. The shadow of the calamity is cast all over.
"But then Has - and this seems amazing given the context - maintains the surrealist humour of Schulz's prose. Józef, the equable, dispassionate traveller roaming areas which have been momentarily snatched away from death, experiences adventures which hardly befit the gravity of the situation.
- Konrad Eberhardt, Kino, 1973
In the picture, Has uses light, shadow and colour to paint a sharper, surrealist vision of Schulz's world, which critics insist strongly contrasts with the original. The result is an alluring, albeit disconcerting, portrait of a bygone era.
Sanatorium pod klepsydrą / The Hourglass Sanatorium
Feature film, Polska, 1973. Directed by Wojciech Jerzy Has, screenplay by Wojciech Jerzy Has based on novel by Bruno Schulz. Director of photography: Witold Sobociński, music by Jerzy Maksymiuk, production design by Jerzy Skarżyński, Andrzej Płocki. Costume design by Lidia Skarżyńska and Jerzy Skarżyński. Featuring: Jan Nowicki (Józef), Tadeusz Kondrat (ojciec), Irena Orska (matka), Gustaw Holoubek (doktor Gotard), Bożena Adamek (Bianka), Mieczysław Voit (niewidomy konduktor), Ludwik Benoit (Szlom), Filip Zylber (Rudolf), Halina Kowalska (Adela), Henryk Boukołowski, Tadeusz Schmidt. Produced by Zespół Filmowy SILESIA, Łódź 1973.
- 1973 - Cannes, Special Jury Award;
- 1974 - Triest, Grand Prix;
- 1974 - Gdańsk, Film Festival, Sets Design Award