A young man named Joseph (Jan Nowicki) visits a dilapidated Sanatorium to see his father Jakob (Tadeusz Konrad). On his arrival, a sinister doctor informs him that his father had stopped breathing but hasn't died yet, perhaps due to Joseph's arrival which may have halted time in the sanatorium. Joseph undertakes a strange journey through the many rooms of the sanatorium, each of which conjures worlds composed of his memories, dreams and nightmares. Adapted from a collection of short stories by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, The Hourglass Sanatorium dispenses with traditional narrative, fashioning an audiovisual mosaic that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. As in The Saragossa Manuscript, Wojciech J. Has fashions a cinematic universe composed with byzantine sets, hallucinatory images and a gallery of grotesque characters. However his magical-realist vision of pre-WW2 Poland is tinged with the sober consciousness of the violence that would follow and the recreation of Joseph's childhood in a Jewish ghetto, foreshadowing the Holocaust.
The Hourglass is a fundamental milestone in the history of the cinematographical language, an absolute masterpiece (Le Monde)
The Hourglass is a mind-blowing work, the cinematographic equivalent of all Mahler's symphonies put together (International Film Guide)
There are many films that have been described as dreamlike but few remain worthy of the description for their full feature length. Hourglass Sanatorium, however, is the (sur)real deal (Film 4)