The Hourglass Sanitorium
Have you ever watched a film where you felt that a lack of understanding of the culture it comes from is a serious problem? This was the case with this colourful Polish fantasy directed by Wojciech Has in the early 70s. Based on the writings of Bruno Schulz, a Polish writer of Jewish heritage who was killed during WWII, this is a picaresque tale that frequently lost me. The set-up was good - a man takes a bleak train journey to visit a sanatorium where his father is dying. Yet, once inside the institution, he finds that the normal rules of time are suspended and that he is re-visiting his own past in a fantastical manner. He flits from scene to scene, finding his father, an eccentric ornithologist, let loose in an attic. He also spars with a teenage philatelist, who may possibly be a youthful version of himself.
There is some humour here, and a lot of oddness. The film also has serious reflections on the Holocaust (and more general warfare) at times, and these are the film's best moments. Yet I rarely felt this was more than the sum of the parts, and I feel the problem could be mine. I was actually reminded of films Fellini made in the 70s and 80s after his imperial phase had ended, in that it was always imaginatively staged yet somehow failed to really move me. Still, if you like Buñuel or Gilliam, you are likely to find this film diverting.