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The Saragossa Manuscript

The Saragossa Manuscript
reviewed by Greta Christina

A three-hour black-and-white art film from Eastern Europe... no, no, no, please don't turn the page. Please. Believe me, I understand the impulse, really I do. If I read the phrase "three-hour black-and-white art film from Eastern Europe" in a movie review, I'd probably be turning the page so fast you'd think it was infected with flesh-eating bacteria. But it isn't like that, honestly. It's a blast; it's full of sex, and ghosts, and sex with ghosts, and duels and swordfights and skeletons and Inquisitions and people climbing in and out of windows and all that good stuff. It's also beautiful and brilliant and unsettling, all about stories within stories, and stories within stories within stories, and stories within stories within...well, you get the drift. (There are, by my count, seven levels of story-within-storytelling, but it's a little hard to be sure, especially since some of the story-levels have multiple stories enfolded in them. If that makes sense.) I saw the thing once about seventeen years ago almost by accident, and again about twelve years ago after writing it obsessively over and over in the U.C. Theater's suggestion book (in different handwritings so they'd think different people were suggesting it -- yes, I suppose it was wrong of me, but I was serving a higher purpose), and the second I heard that it was coming back I immediately did a little happy-jig 'cuz I was going to get to see it again. Oh, speaking of which; if you've seen it before, do see it again. This is the complete, restored version, and it's a much better movie than the clipped-up version that made such an impression on me oh so many years ago. It's actually a whole lot tighter and faster-moving than the shorter version. Funny how that works sometimes.

Copyright 1999 Greta Christina. Originally published in San Francisco Frontiers.


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