The Hourglass Sanatorium

The Hourglass Sanatorium

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Wojciech Jerzy Has
Screenplay by Wojciech Jerzy Has
Based on Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass
by Bruno Schulz
Starring Jan Nowicki
Tadeusz Kondrat
Mieczysław Voit
Halina Kowalska
Gustaw Holoubek
Music by Jerzy Maksymiuk
Cinematography Witold Sobocinski
Edited by Janina Niedźwiecka
Zespół Filmowy Silesia
Distributed by Film Polski
Release dates
Running time
119 minutes
Country Poland
Language Polish

The Hourglass Sanatorium (Polish: Sanatorium pod klepsydrą) is a 1973 Polish film directed by Wojciech Jerzy Has, starring Jan Nowicki, Tadeusz Kondrat, Mieczysław Voit, Halina Kowalska and Gustaw Holoubek. It is also known as The Sandglass in English speaking countries. The story follows a man who visits his father in a mystical sanatorium where time does not behave normally. The film is an adaptation of Bruno Schulz's story collection Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. It won the Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.


Joseph (Jan Nowicki) travels through a dream-like world, taking a dilapidated train to visit his dying father, Jacob, in a sanatorium. When he arrives at the hospital, he finds the entire facility is going to ruin and no one seems to be in charge or even caring for the patients. Time appears to behave in unpredictable ways, reanimating the past in an elaborate artificial caprice.

Though Joseph is always shown as an adult, his behavior and the people around often depict him as a child. He befriends Rudolf, a young boy who owns a postage stamp album. The names of the stamps trigger a wealth of association and adventure in Joseph. Among the many occurrences in this visually potent phantasmagoria include Joseph re-entering childhood episodes with his wildly eccentric father (who lives with birds in an attic), being arrested by a mysterious unit of soldiers for having a dream that was severely criticized in high places, reflecting on a girl he fantasized about in his boyhood and commandeering a group of historic wax mannequins. Throughout his strange journey, an ominous blind train conductor reappears like a death figure.

Has also adds a series of reflections on the Holocaust that were not present in the original texts, reading Schulz's prose through the prism of the author's death during World War II and the demise of the world he described.



The Hourglass Sanatorium is not solely an adaptation of Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, but also includes sequences from other works by Bruno Schulz. Regarding the possibility of a film adaptation of a book written by Schulz, director Wojciech Jerzy Has said: "Schulz's poetic prose was the reading of my early youth. It influenced my films. That is why the realization of The Hourglass Sanatorium was a must for me. My aim was not to make a literal adaption of the work, but rather to do justice to what we call the work's poetics: its unique, isolated world, its atmospherics, colours and shapes."[1] The time period of the film is a mixture of elements from the turn-of-the-century Galicia where Schulz grew up, and Has' own pre-World War II memories of the same region.[1] The film was produced by Zespół Filmowy Silesia. Principal photography took place at the Wytwórnia Filmów Fabularnych studios in Łódź.[2]


Despite being a major production, the finished film was met by reluctancy from the Polish authorities. Not only was the crumbled sanatorium interpreted as a parallel to the poor condition of many institutions and manor houses in contemporary Poland; Has had also chosen to emphasize the Jewish aspects of the source material, and this soon after an antisemitic campaign the government had launched in 1968, which had prompted around 30,000 Polish Jews to leave the country. The authorities forbid Has to submit The Hourglass Sanatorium for the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, but the director managed to smuggle a print abroad so the film could be screened at the festival.[1] The Cannes jury, led by actress Ingrid Bergman, honoured the film with the Jury Prize.[3][4] The Polish premiere took place on 11 December 1973.[2] The film is among 21 digitally restored classic Polish films chosen for Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. [5] [6] and has been released on blu-ray in a related box set by Milestone Cinema.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Hodge, Nick (2010-08-07). "Wojciech Has and the Interpretation of Dreams". Krakow Post. Lifeboat Ltd. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  2. 1 2 "Sanatorium pod klepsydrą". (in Polish). Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  3. "Juries 1973". Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  4. "Sanatorium pod klepsydra". Retrieved 2009-04-19.
  5. Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema
  6. Martin Scorsese Presents 21 Masterpieces

Essay on the film: A Journey into the Underworld

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