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W. Has's movie "The Saragossa Manuscript" is based on the book written by Jan Potocki, 1761-1812, and titled The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.  The film leaves one with a sense of mystifying incompleteness through what seem to be only partially connected tales-- creating a great deal of the movie's charm as we experience a series of surprising events along with the main character.  The book, in contrast, leaves one with a feeling of stultifying completeness-- but still manages to make one question whether all the stories included are necessary to the work. In truth, the excess is part of the artfulness, and is pushed to the limit of the author's conscience and abilities.

The book does answer the questions I had asked myself as to the logical completeness problems in the movie.  In the book the logic of the stories in relation to the main narrative is not hard to follow.  Has took major liberties with the movie(to bring closure within a reasonable film length) and made the plot turn back on itself again at the end in a way the book does not, thus raising some confusing issues in the viewer which never occur at all while reading the book.  That the book is not meta-fictional or surreal in the same sense that the film suggests, is a bit of a disappointment.  Even so, the layering of the tales has a meta-fictional feel to it, and the supernatural elements of the stories, though tied to ignorance, misperception, and often, deceit, can be read as surreal tableaux.

The book weighs in at 631 pages. While some of the branching tales are episodic, some are short and sweet. All the tellers figure into the master story involving the young Walloon officer Alphonse (the writer of the manuscript of the title) though it is never completely understood in what relationship all of them stand to Alphonse until the very ending pages of the book.

The book (spoiler):  A young Walloon officer on the way to join his regiment in Madrid is detained in the mountains by a mysterious race of subterranean Muslim relatives (on his mother's side), sorely tested, and raised up to a glorious fate.

This is not the trajectory of the movie.  The supernatural occurrences possibly involving Muslim Witches, Gypsies, Bandits, and Cabalists are not completely dispensed with by explanation. It seems like the explanations given may be unreliable-- just more lies.  After everything is explained to Alphonse, he apparently goes mad.  Thus the movie ends far more dramatically than the book, perhaps as well it should.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 8th, 2013 08:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the synopsis of the book, which I haven't ever had time to read. It obviously fits into my major sets of interests, but I never knew just how much until now.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
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