Zbigniew Cybulski did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Alfonso van Worden in The Saragossa Manuscript.
Well about seven years after his breakout role in Ashes and Diamonds, we find Zbigniew Cybulski once again. In that earlier film Zbigniew Cybulski's performance was fashioned over James Dean, which sadly came to be came prophetic with Cybulski's early death. Cybulski though didn't die as young as James Dean so he continued as an actor, and here we see him a very different role, as a closer to middle aged man. Cybulski in no way plays into that Dean idea here, which would likely be ill-fitting to a man living during the Spanish Inquisition. Cybulski, while not playing the role as James Dean, is actually a very modern presence given the time period still. This is not at all ill-fitting towards the film. In fact Cybulski's approach is very welcome towards the film and in a way help to ease some of the film's mind bending through his approach. Cybulski quite honestly gives a comedic performance here, even though his character goes through torture at the hands of the inquisition, seemingly demonic forces, and all sorts of far more serious subjects to be sure. There's quite a lot going on around the poor Captain of the guards Alfonso, and Cybulski's performance actually acts as a bit of balancing factor to keep it all from it all becoming perhaps too much.
Cybulski's performance, which is often to play Alfonso as the audience at any given point, has what one could call sort of a precursor to a Lynchian style of humor. In that Cybulski's performance often is within some horrifying scenes however these scenes will often become suddenly hilarious without distracting from the scene. This is from Cybulski's work which is notable in that he basically plays the part as a normal guy in this situation with no great ambitions other than for nothing bad to happen to him, and perhaps indulging with some "fair" maidens who claim he's the first man they've ever seen. Cybulski for example, in the scene of meeting these two strange princesses who live in a cavern, and want him to drink out of a skull, portrays a blend of curiosity with bit of a bashfulness of a man who believes he's hit an unexpected jackpot. The potential horror elements naturally being assuaged due to the most intriguing prospect at the center of it all. Cybulski brings the right lack of shame in this indulgence and he is rather amusing just to watch deal with this entanglement of sorts. Of course this entanglement never seems to end well when he always wakes up at the end of it among corpses.
Now one major similarity between his work here and the last time I reviewed him in Ashes and Diamonds, is the fact that despite being lead in both films, he's just barely lead in each. This film once again does devote the most time to his story however this is not saying a great deal in the scheme of the film which gets lost in its stories among stories among stories. Once it really gets going in the stories we are only granted a brief moment with him where he is just as confused as ever that is before the film's finale which seems answer a few of the questions though only with a few more questions. Cybulski's performance offers a bit stability in two ways. One being that he doesn't change within the story always portraying his role as a man just trying to figure what is going on the same way the audience really is, the other being by offer a bit respite in the humor that comes from such worldly approach within the surreal environment. This is a good performance by Zbigniew Cybulski however I must say once again that it is a limited one and the unquestionable takeaway from this film is of the vision from director Wojciech Jerzy Has. Cybulski's work though is still an important part of that vision though it is unquestionably overshadowed by it.