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Film / The Saragossa Manuscript

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The Saragossa Manuscript is a 1965 film by Polish director Wojciech Has, based on The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki, written in 1815.

The movie begins with the discovery of the titular manuscript by an army officer, who (in the middle of a battle) begins thumbing through it to admire the artwork. An enemy officer arrives, tries to arrest him, and gets drawn in as well. As it so happens, the book talks about his ancestor.

Alfonse van Worden, captain of the Spanish Walloon Guard, is attempting to reach Madrid over the mountains with his two servants. Warned of gypsies and ghosts, he resolves to proceed anyway. Along the way he is seduced, drugged, seduced again, drugged again, and told numerous stories, in which some of the characters begin telling stories of their own...


This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: The army officer in the beginning starts an attack only to retreat immediately.
  • Back from the Dead: The Zota brothers were hanged for being notorious bandits, but make an appearance in one of the stories. Somebody hanged a couple of random guys to appease the locals that something was being done.
    • "Do they, by chance, have the habit of coming down?" "Very often, usually at night."
  • Blood from the Mouth: Toledo's friend who dies in a duel is shown with blood from his mouth when disclosed on the stretcher.
  • The Church: The Spanish Inquisition plans to waylay Alfonse a couple of times. The first time, they succeed, and he's only rescued from the torture chambers by the Zota brothers. The second time, they manage to get Velasquez by mistake.
  • Closed Circle: Alfonse seem to go be caught in a in closed circles between the gallows and the inn. The Spanish Inquisition acts as a Border Patrol, preventing him from getting on with his journey to Madrid.
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  • Contemplate Our Navels: Don Pedro Velasquez entertains deep philosophical questions at the table which Alfonse admits to be unable to follow.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Toledo's close friend dueled Toledo's own brother, and resolved to tell him the truth of the afterlife if he lost. What Toledo hears later that night during a thunderstorm makes him abandon his philandering ways and become a penitent. For awhile.
  • Demonic Possession: Pacheko suffers from this, until it's revealed that he's a Basque acrobat who's just playing along with the Sheik's plans.
  • Dream Within a Dream: Implied to be the entire adventure of Alfonse, up until two foreign women invite him for dinner at the inn near the end..
  • Duel to the Death: This being Spain, happens or is mentioned frequently. Alfonse's father, being an honorable sort, engaged in several. Don Avadoro reveals that he saw one of them happen, and Alfonse confirms it.
  • Enter Stage Window: Used twice (on different windows), by Lopez and later Busqueros. The latter's entry is implied to happen in a house where the ladder may as well be a permanent fixture.
  • Forgotten Framing Device: The film ends without returning to the primary level of the Nested Story, the one with the two opposing soldiers reading the manuscript.
  • Framing Device: The Saragossa Manuscript itself.
  • Hell Hotel: The not so deserted Venta Quemada.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Don Avadoro refuses offers to become a servant, stating that he's a nobleman by birth and upbringing, a beggar by choice.
  • In Love with Love: Lopez Soarez narrates that he is in love, but has no idea who or what is the object of his desire.
  • Instant Sedation: The sip Alfonse takes from the skull goblet renders him unconscious immediately.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Alfonse finds the manuscript at the Cabalist's castle but it is gone to his dismay when he returns to the room.
  • Karma Houdini: Lopez Soarez's nobleman "friend" Busqueros, who eats his food, steals his letters, stabs him in the arm and then remonstrates him for interrupting a good story, but who gets full marks for effortlessly knocking down the elder Soarez' objections to his son marrying Inez.
  • Kissing Cousins: The Moorish princesses claim to be this to Alfonse.
  • The Matchmaker: Busqueros. Also, the Sheik.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A recurring theme in the stories.
    • The princesses recoil in fear from a Christian relic. When called on this by Alfonse, they explain that they are Muslim.
    • The very moment that Alfonse's father cries out that he'd sell his soul for water, a beautiful woman in dark dress appears and gives him some.
    • Uzeda, the Kabbalist, offers to prove the truth of incantations and demons to Velasquez.
    • Toledo thinks he hears a voice from the afterlife warning him of the existence of purgatory.
  • Merchant Prince: The senior Soarez's rival Moro, the royal banker.
  • Mistaken Identity: The Spanish Inquisition mistakes Velasquez for Alfonse.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Lopez Soarez, who is new in town. He was given several pieces of good advice from his father, and managed to screw up every one of them. His naivete leads him into the company of Busqueros and Inez.
  • Nested Story: The movie in a nutshell.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Alfonse. Then again, 90% of the movie is someone telling him a story.
  • Secret Test of Character: The reason for pretty much everything that has happened to Alfonse, to see whether he's worthy of marrying the princesses. The Saragossa Manuscript held by the cabalist and noticed by Alfonse describes everything, including the ending.
  • Separate Scene Storytelling: All stories told on-screen are depicted in images.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The hero embraces two sisters sitting on a bed; the camera remains fixed as the characters sink down out of the frame.
  • Tap on the Head: Alfonse gets knocked out when henchmen of the Spanish Inquisition hits him in the head with a light wooden club.
  • Three-Way Sex: Not shown, but definitely stated to have happened to the captain.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Lopez Soarez demands that Busqueros do this, to the extent of challenging him to a duel.


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