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In fact, until The Pianist (2004), this was his last Polish feature and remains his only one in his native language.The ingredients could hardly be simpler: a middle-aged man, his much younger wife, and the hitchhiker that they pick up en route to a yachting cruise on one of Poland’s vast lakes.Wojciech Has has always stood apart from his contemporaries, being far more interested in dreams, fantasy and full-blown gothic extravagance than psychological realism – and unlike fellow fabulists Walerian Borowczyk and Andrzej Żuławski, he stayed at home.Based on Jan Potocki’s celebrated Chinese-box novel, The Saragossa Manuscript is set during the Napoleonic era, but any hints at a conventional widescreen historical epic are swiftly banished when the central narrative about the discovery of a mysterious manuscript opens up an intricate lattice of stories within stories within stories (this invaluable deconstruction identifies no fewer than seven layers), whose elements become weirder and weirder as Cabbalism, gypsies and Spain’s Islamic past are stirred into an already heady mix.

Andrzej Munk died young, a tragic cultural loss since his films were every bit as impressive as those by more fêted contemporaries, and more daring in his willingness to slaughter sacred cows.But following October 1956’s cultural thaw, Polish cinema rapidly emerged as one of the freshest and most exciting forces in Europe, several years before equivalent French, British, Czech and Hungarian ‘new waves’, with filmmakers such as Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Andrzej Munk, Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda established as world-class talents.Two decades later, at the turn of the 1980s, it seemed even more relevant, with Wajda and his younger successors Agnieszka Holland, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Wojciech Marczewski and Krzysztof Zanussi offering searching studies of Polish psychology and politics against a backdrop of real-life historical upheavals that accompanied the 1978 election of a Polish pope and the 1980 Solidarity protests that exposed the cracks in the Iron Curtain long before it finally came crashing down.But the level of psychological detail (future director Jerzy Skolimowski was co-writer) enables Polanski to ratchet up the tension right from the start: all is clearly not well with the marriage even before the hitchhiker appears, and the couple’s motives for picking him up are decidedly questionable.Krzysztof Komeda’s jazz score, complete with wordless female vocals, is simultaneously inexpressibly haunting and quietly menacing.

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