Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)

If Terry Gilliam had been given free reign to direct an Amicus anthology film, or if he had made a version of his own TIME BANDITS but from a much more adult perspective, the result might have been much like Wojciech Has’ THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM, now given a top notch restoration and released on Blu-ray in the UK by Mr Bongo Films.

A rotting train filled with weird and possibly dying characters brings our hero to his destination - the ‘sanatorium’ of the title. The train is manned by a blind conductor who pops up in the narrative at various intervals, a little bit like this film’s equivalent of Dr Terror. 

Jozef, the central character, has come to the sanatorium to see his dead and dying father. It’s possible for the old man to exist in two states because, as the crumbling hospital’s only doctor sort-of explains, time runs differently inside the building, and while Jozef’s father may have died in the ‘real’ world, in here he is only sleeping.

As if to prove the point, Jozef looks out of the window of his father’s hospital room to see Jozef himself arriving. This time, however, instead of entering as he did before, he is guided by a young boy in a sailor suit to another part of the building, and there begin his adventures.

I can’t possibly explain what THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM is all about. We seem to start in Jozef’s childhood as the grown Jozef meets his mother again, enquires after his father and then ends up in what feels like the Jewish equivalent of Sunday School. After that it becomes increasingly disjointed but is no less fabulous for that. Indeed, while you may not understand what’s going on here, there’s no doubting the creativity on display as Josef encounters sexy women, broken automatons, a room full of stuffed birds, a paddle steamer lying rotting in the countryside and much, much more. 

Based on the works of Bruno Schulz, THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM is a weird and fabulous journey through a world of history and nightmare, with the constant theme of time being an abstract concept that can be altered to suit the needs of story.

Mr Bongo’s Blu-ray restoration of THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM looks absolutely wonderful, and is a huge improvement on the previous DVD release. There are no extras but it’s just a delight to have this remarkable film preserved in a high definition medium. 

Mr Bongo Films released Wojciech Has' THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM on Region B Blu-ray on 7th September 2015

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