p style=”text-align: center;”>“Marcel Proust’s
“From Sickbed to Boyhood and Back”
Those who have read Marcel Proust’s great work say their lives were changed. Those who haven’t are daunted by the prospect of a 14-volume read. Raoul Ruiz’s elegant and imaginative film is also extremely long and like Proust’s prose, it requires repeated visits to unravel the question of who fits in where and how so-and-so relates to another character.
Ruiz’s “Time Regained” is an almost perversely ambitious adaptation, a two-and-a-half-hour reverie on the sixth and final volume of Marcel Proust’s magnum opus, “Remembrance Of Things Past.” Still more perverse is that Ruiz has designed it as a companion to the novel rather than a fully (or even partially) comprehensible work in its own right. I am afraid, however, that this is a lavish, expensive international production that will leave all those who have not studied Proust unable to figure out what is going on. On the other hand, the film, however quixotic, is an accomplished and impressive achievement, especially in the way Ruiz translates Proust’s narrative digressions into formal flights of fancy. Rather than straighten out the timeline, Ruiz and co-writer Gilles Taurand configure the scenes like narrative ballets, with fragments of time constantly turning in on themselves. All it takes is a single spark of memory for Proust’s alter ego, Marcello Mazzarella, to transport himself to another point in his personal history. His memories have little emotional resonance because there’s no way of knowing how the other characters might have affected him; they just float, ghost-like, floating in and out of the narrative. A couple of characters, however, give strong impressions; Emmanuelle Béart as the withering object of Mazzarella’s childhood infatuation and a badly dubbed John Malkovich as Charlus, an aristocratic baron whose cultured manner hides darker secrets. Ruiz’s has succeeded in finding a cinematic equivalent to Proust’s writing style. I love Proust and read him at least once a year but in the film, for those who are new to him, this might be too difficult to explain. Nonetheless, it is a visual fest and pure beauty to watch. I would love to be at a discussion of the movie with other Proust lovers just to hear their opinions which I am quite sure would be as colorful as the costumes.
Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz has approached Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” from the most challenging vantage point possible. “Time Regained,” is the epic’s sixth and final volume, and it recapitulates and resolves all that has come before. Ruiz’s aspiration is to synthesize the themes and characters of Proust’s monumental work in a single film. When we consider the volumes of Proust, we understand that this is a daunting prospect with a running time of 158 minutes that turns out to be no time at all. Ruiz’s use of surrealistic touches serves him better well as he intermingles past and present, to fuse many different impressions of a single character, or to delve with Proustian fortitude beneath the material’s genteel veneer. The match of filmmaker and material is felicitous as is the stellar cast. When the least glamorous Frenchwoman in a film turns out to be Catherine Deneuve (as the matronly Odette, seen mostly in her dowager days), we know that there is eye candy,
“Time Regained” struggles under the burden of adapting such rarefied material. Removing most of the impressions, sensations, sighs and longings from “Remembrance of Things Past”, what remains are furtive liaisons and lavish social gatherings. Ruiz presents this atmosphere with a knowing wink, and with a prim Marcel (Marcello Mazzarella) who glides through time and space taking mental notes. “Time Regained” begins at the sickbed of the elderly Marcel and goes to his boyhood and back again, with the characters in his life as the only significant figures in this landscape. They too are seen through time, so that Gilberte (Emmanuelle Béart) can be both the little girl who once made a coarse hand gesture that Marcel would never forget, and the fading wife of Robert Saint Loup (Pascal Greggory), who finds her less compelling than his male lovers.
The film unfolds dreamily with gliding props that suggest one long sleepwalk that fuses all of these impressions together while at the same time rendering them opaque. This is a brave literary adaptation but without much resonance outside its literary context. Ruiz’s visual wit and playful style are put to good use when the masochistic Charlus visits a male bordello for a beating and the oval-framed hole in the wall through which Marcel enterprisingly peeks into the bedroom is a dandy correlative for the writer’s point of view. We see that Marcel is dying in his room, surrounded by faded photographs and plaster figurines. He remembers incidents in his life, while desperately writing “A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu” before the breath literally leaves him. Fact and fiction meld in his mind. Time is shuffled, characters touch as they pass, society remains locked in the warp of a tradition with lack of movement. Marcel is described as “a social butterfly.” He knows everyone, flitting from room to room, watching, listening dressed immaculately in white tie and tails. He absorbs passion, without expressing it; he is a voyeur rather than a voyager.
Excluding the war, which takes place off screen, and the author’s imminent demise, which lingers behind closed doors, nothing much happens. As a comedy of manners, the is exquisite. The seamless etiquette of social behavior has been beautifully recreated. We have magic realism and memory, encompassing the precise detail of upper class life before “the vulgar hordes invade.” Marcel observes the boredom, arrogance and emotional inadequacies of people who dress human weakness in uniform and expect duty to take care of them. As a writer, he does not judge. As a man, he hides behind a facade. When accused of looking lost in a ballroom, he replies, with the arch of an eyebrow, “Lost is of minor importance. The problem is finding oneself.”
Every novel requires a fair amount of pruning for the screen, so the challenge is to streamline the story while preserving it’s meaning. If nothing else, This is Raúl Ruiz’s most ambitious literary adaptation and considered his greatest cinematic achievement. It is a “gorgeous, meticulously crafted spectacle” (Jack Matthews, New York Daily News).