|During the 1999 New York Film Festival, audiences were treated to several high points ranging from Pedro Almodovar’s
brilliant and mature All About My Mother, the astonishing performances of Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny in Boy’s Don’t
Cry and the sheer audacity of Leos Carax’s Pola X. Among the other treats was Time Regained, Raul Ruiz’s visually
sumptuous and literate screen adaptation of Marcel Proust’s masterwork A la recherche du temps perdu, generally
translated in English as either In Search of Lost Time or the more colloquial Remembrance of Things Past. As with any
literary adaptation, Ruiz and his co-scenarist Gilles Taurand took some liberties with the original source material, yet they
were able to remain steadfastly faithful to Proust’s spirit while finding the requisite visual distillations.
Proust’s classic has confounded filmmakers almost since the 1913 publication of the first volume. In the 1970s, Harold
Pinter wrote an acclaimed, although unproduced, screen adaptation for director Joseph Losey. Despite periodic rumors of
its production, Pinter’s work remained known only to a limited audience until 1999 when his screenplay was published. In
the interim, Proust’s life served as the basis of one film (Percy Adlon’s 1981 biography Celeste, which was based on the
memoirs of the author’s housekeeper) and Volker Schlondorff worked with Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere to
adapt part of the massive In Search of Lost Time as Un Amour de Swann/Swann’s Way, which many felt only barely
scratched the surface.
Over the course of his distinguished career, the prolific Chilean-born, Paris-dwelling Raul Ruiz has proven an innovative
filmmaker. Not all of his experiments in bending time and space have proven effective but his frequent manipulation of
technique -- from odd camera angles to strange point of view shots to labyrinthine plots -- form the basis of his reputation.
In recent years, several of his films have played in the USA to a mixed reception. I must confess I was unimpressed by
Genealogies of a Crime (1997), a multi-layered psychological examination of a murder, and Shattered Image (1998), which
examined the psyche of a woman who may either be a killer for hire or a neurotic on her honeymoon. Both seemed
overwrought and a bit tedious, with Ruiz’s direction subsuming the intention of the films. In a stroke of genius, however, he
has applied the same techniques (such as scenes where the past and present appear to co-exist) to Proust’s novel and has
created what has to be called a cinematic masterpiece.
Working with an accomplished design team, including production designer Bruno Beauge, costume designers Gabriella
Pescucci and Caroline DeVivaise, composer Jorge Arriagada (who cleverly approximates the musical stylings of the early
20th-century) and director of photography Ricardo Aronovich (whose impressionistic cinematography makes it seem as if
period photographs have come to life), Ruiz has painstakingly recreated the world of Proust. Whether it’s the elegant
evening wear or the gorgeous interiors of the aristocracy, the look of Time Regained is incredibly lush and sensual. From a
visual and aural standpoint alone, the film provides a wealth of riches. Factoring in the large and talented cast, Time
Regained ranks as one of the best films of 2000.
Audience members unfamiliar with A la recherche du temps perdu might wish to brush up on the work, although if one pays
careful attention, one can follow the plot. Ruiz and company worked diligently to remain faithful to the spirit of the work.
While class remains an issue in society today, the aristocracy of Proust’s day has more or less been supplanted by the
nouveau riche. The director and screenwriters also manage to invoke the fluid sexuality of the characters without judgment
(Almost no one in this demimonde is strictly homosexual or heterosexual -- bisexuality is not only tolerated, it’s the norm.)
Ruiz has meticulously cast Time Regained and each actor delivers indelible work. Of special note are Catherine Deneuve as
the mysterious courtesan-like Odette to John Malkovich as the masochistic Charlus still in lust with Vincent Perez’s Morel, a
former servant turned army deserter, Emmanuelle Beart portraying the sensuous but unhappily married Gilberte, Marie-
France Pisier as the vulgar Madame Verdurin and Pascal Greggory as Saint-Loup, Gilberte’s husband and Morel’s new
lover who is killed during World War I. Anchoring the film is Proust lookalike Marcello Mazzarella as the adult Marcel (the
incredibly gifted George Du Fresne -- Ludovic of Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink) portrays Marcel as a boy and Pierre
Mignard enacts the teenage Marcel). Famed French director Patrice Chereau is credited with “the Voice of Marcel Proust.”
While it might seem a daunting task to watch a three-hour film based on one of the undisputed classics in world literature, it
will be a rewarding experience for anyone who is willing. Ruiz’s virtuosic direction (which owes more than a passing debt to
Orson Welles), the superlative cast and the superior production values elevate Time Regained into a class of its own.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.