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TIME REGAINED (Temps Retrouvé, Le) (director/writer: Raúl Ruiz; screenwriters: from book by Marcel Proust “Remembrance Of Things Past”/Gilles Taurand; cinematographer: Ricardo Aronovich; editor: Denise de Casabianca; cast: Marcello Mazzarella (Proust), Emmanuelle Béart (Gilberte), Vincent Perez (Morel), John Malkovich (Baron de Charlus), Catherine Deneuve (Odette), Pascal Greggory (Robert Saint-Loup), Marie-France Pisier (Madame Verdurin), Chiara Mastroianni (Albertine), Arielle Dombasle (Madame De Farch), Christian Vadim (Bloch), Elsa Zylberstein (Rachel), Edith Scob (Oriane de Guermantes), Dominique Labourier (Madame Cottard), Alain Robbe-Grillet (Goncourt), Mathilde Seigner (Celeste); Runtime: 158; Kino International/Gemini/Canal Plus; 1999-Fr./It./Port.)
“In a Ruiz film one must expect a work that is obscure and mysterious.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A visually playful version of Marcel Proust’s epic “Remembrance Of Things Past,” which only covers the last volume of a lengthy multi-volume book; but, continually makes references to other parts of the book not covered in the film. The film is almost incomprehensible without reading the book, as there’s no time to introduce all of the story line and characters (though an attempt was made to introduce the main characters, as the dying Proust puts a magnifying glass to the photos in his collection that brings back his memories). For those who are not readers of the book this is not a substitute for the book, but a work that, nevertheless, lives on its own merits. To expect anything to be less than opaque from an undertaking of such a difficult work to adapt to the screen is, perhaps, asking too much of anyone. To ask it of Raul Ruiz, the stylish surrealist Chilean exiled director, now a resident of France, is asking him to do what he has never done before. In a Ruiz film one must expect a work that is obscure and mysterious. This combination avant-garde art film and literary period drama is successful in its bold attempt to go where most other filmmakers fear to go. He delves into the labyrinthine world of Proust’s dying era during the early part of the 20th century and comes away with a purely cinematic work of dreamlike beauty. It’s a film that doesn’t necessarily tell a story, but brings you instead to the conclusion of “Remembrance Of Things Past” in an unforgettably eccentric way.

Proust’s work is about the eternal nature of memory. The opening scene takes you into his cork-lined bedroom, where he is ill in bed feverishly writing or dictating to the maid Celeste who is caring for him; he is in a rush to complete his writings, as he expects to die soon. Proust will be played by all the following: Marcello Mazzarella (the Italian actor is a dead-ringer for Proust) as “Marcel” in the main role; Andre Engel as “old Marcel;” Jean Leger as the actor who dubs Engel; Georges du Fresne as “Marcel as a child;” Pierre Mignard as “Marcel as an adolescent;” and, director and actor Patrice Chereau does “the voice of Marcel Proust.”

In this death-like atmosphere Marcel will revisit his past, but since the film is not linear we will see him as he was throughout his life at any particular time — from a youngster to middle-aged to his present condition. His memories of his earlier days are awakened by any memento in his bedchamber: even the taste of a Madeleine, a sweet pastry he loved as a child. In these memories he will reminds us, that to remember the past is to experience its loss; the writer will act as our guide into his fictional and real world. He will tell about such things as: his yearnings, his fears, his feelings on death and love, the behavior of high class society, and about the gossip and betrayals among his friends.

The film is made up of a succession of formal social gatherings in palatial homes through which finely dressed women gossip and are wearing either brocades or fashionable feathers sticking out of their hair; while the formally dressed men parade around in the ballroom with the look of contented bulls; the film’s most artistic image is of the men’s upturned top hats covering the floor of an ornate waiting room. The time period for most of the action is during WW1 (1914-18).

Marcel remembers Paris as a time when he was suffering from asthma, and where he wanders the deserted night streets because of the wartime curfew. In one of the decadent scenes he comes out of the night to rest and chooses to stay at a male bordello, Palais des Felicites, where he spies the perverse Baron Charlus (Malkovich) seducing young men to whip him. He chats with the attractive Gilberte (Béart) when she returns alone to Tansonville to check out her chateau after the death of her bi-sexual husband Saint-Loup (Greggory) at the warfront. Marcel has always loved her because she made him believe he was capable of loving others, something he wasn’t sure he was capable of doing. She’s the daughter of his old friend Odette (Deneuve), someone he has a special fondness for.

Marcal meets the flirtatious violinist Morel (Perez), who is an army deserter, when he’s hiding in a dinghy hotel. Marcel talks with him about his strained love relationship with the Baron, of whom Morel now despises. And through his conversations with the ghosts he conjures up on his deathbed, he relates how hard the war was on all those he knew.

We are treated to funerals as spectacles that look oddly enough like convivial affairs.

Marcel finds refuge in his childhood memories to escape the horror stories around him. Madame Verdurin (Pisier) appears giddy and controlling at her parties, the ones Marcel seems to recall best.

The film is loaded with surprises, as Ruiz uses Proust in the film to meditate on how he would have used the film if he were to film his epic instead of write it. There are all sorts of camera tricks used: shots frozen in time, imitations of how the filmmakers of that time period shot their films, and the past and present fuse sometimes together in a surrealistic way. In Proustian logic, one can be old and young at the same time.

It’s an ambitious project, enhanced by its starry cast, filled with splendid visuals and tidbits from conversations that don’t linger long, as the film moves intractably into the poetical. It’s Proust you’re getting, but from a daring perspective. It is also a rare film, that shouldn’t be missed or seen only once, even if it’s messy and one is apt to get lost in its decadent mood swings and enthralling aristocratic atmosphere. The film just feels right for either the reader of the novel as I was some 30 years ago and who was trying to recall what I could from the book, or for the novice to Proust who might just be entertained by what he or she sees on the screen. There are some who claim that “Remembrance Of Things Past” is the best written novel of the 20th century, and it very well might be! This film works, despite being able to only capture the book in spirit but not in its whole. But there is no doubt about one thing, this is what good filmmaking is about!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”