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‘The Sandglass’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 08, 1990

"The Sandglass" is a bewilderment of dreams, a labyrinth of decay. Written and directed by Wojciech J. Has in 1973, this non-narrative work was based on a collection of short stories by "Poland's Kafka," Bruno Schulz. Hailed as a classic, it is nevertheless a torturous trip down the rapids of the stream of consciousness.

Jan Nowicki is the protagonist, the child-man Joseph, who arrives at a ruined gothic sanitarium to visit his father, Jacob (Tadeusz Kondrat). The sanitarium, overrun with weeds and cobwebs, is attended by Dr. Gotard (Gustow Holoubek) and a fetching nurse who, like all the other dream girls herein, seldom fastens her garments. Sexual fantasy, biblical parable and childhood memories tangle in a squirrel's nest of surrealities.

In the sanitarium, Joseph finds that Dr. Gotard is maintaining his father's life signs by slowing down time. In fact, here time has come to a full stop and has started to travel backward. Thus, Joseph is able to revisit his youth in a Hasidic village. Not only are his old friends and family there, but so are the Three Wise Men with advice on buying on credit, as well as some samba-dancing, saber-wielding Haitian soldiers from his boyhood fantasies.

Eventually, Joseph returns through the corridors of time to the pedestrian present and crawls into bed with his ailing father, who complains that his son has not visited him sooner. Childhood memories fade as Joseph tumbles back through the Slavic looking glass to take back the responsibility of middle age.

An exploration of immortality, memory and the functions of psychoanalysis, "The Sandglass" pours out its grains of wisdom in a deluge of ambiguity. Not for clock-watchers or fans of quick pace or plot, this old timepiece runs on Greenwich Godot.

"The Sandglass" in Polish with English subtitles, is not rated but contains nudity.

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