Count Jan Potocki was born in 1761 in a castle in Pikow (Poland). He was a writer, an erudite, a traveler, a spiritual man, a scientist and a politician, he was also one of the most interesting characters of the Enlightenment era. He traveled the world, he visited Morocco, Tunisia, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Hungary, Serbia, Turkey, Egypt, Russia… he even went as fas as Mongolia. But none of these vast big territories really mattered to him while he wandered Sierra Morena, the way that goes from Córdoba to Despeñaperros. The sceneries he encountered in his path he turned them into the only novel he wrote. Poor Potocki ended his life in 1815, he took his own life with a silver bullet that he himself polished.
His great novel The manuscript found in Saragossa is considered by many one of the treasures of fantasy literature. It is to many, especially in Eastern Europe, the Polish Don Quijote.
The novel tells the story of Alfonso van Worden an officer that travels through Sierra Morena in order to get to Madrid where he is expected to serve Philip V. During his journey he would find all kinds of characters and live through many extraordinary events. The novel is organized in short stories that intertwine, thus, resulting in a literary labyrinth. So influential was this novel that later authors such as Gerard de Nerval and Washington Irving plagiarized some of his stories.
In 1965 Polish director Wojciech Jerzy Has turned the book in a film (original soundtrack by Krzysztof Penderecki). The film, had a duration of roughly three hours, and quickly became a cult object. The picture is toured around the world but it is too long and was eventually cut to an hour.
In the early 90’s Jerry García, guitarist and lead singer of the band Grateful Dead got interested in the film and paid its restoration. However, García died in 1995 before seeing it completed. Fortunately two fans of Has and Potocki, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, made sure that the project could meet its end and helped financially so that the film would recover its original three full hours in 2001.
Luis Buñuel was another true fan of the picture, he often said it was one of the few films that he had not quit watching:
“I am amazed by The Manuscript found in Saragossa, both the novel by Potocki and the film by Has.
I have seen the picture three times so far, which means it is absolutely exceptional.”
So be sure not to miss this movie for the world but keep in mind that it lasts three hours. My advise: gather a few pounds of popcorn and enjoy this treasure. Also, pay attention to the first three minutes of the film you will get to know why a story that takes place in Sierra Morena is titled as The manuscript found in Saragossa. If Buñuel watched it three times we ought to watch it at least one.
If you dare watch the three full hours click the link below: