Mike Sutton looks at the recent Second Sight release of this 1999 film inspired by the work of Marcel Proust.
It’s become something of a cliché to say that Marcel Proust’s multi-volume novel In Search of Lost Time is unfilmable. In a sense, it’s quite true that anyone trying to put every page on film is doomed to failure since the multiplicity of characters and the complexity of their interrelationships would mean that the scale of the production and the running time would be such that few people would invest in it and even fewer people would sit through it. However, it’s entirely possible to put the spirit of Proust’s masterpiece on screen and some of the best attempts have been inadvertent – both Once Upon A Time In America and Casino are steeped in Proustian notions of time and memory. Direct adaptations are relatively rare; Harold Pinter wrote a brilliant unfilmed screenplay in the 1970s and Luchino Visconti dreamed of filming the work with Marlon Brando. In 1983, Volker Schlondorff made a good fist of filming the second part of the first volume and Chantal Akerman loosely adapted the fifth volume as The Captive.
While many people have heard of A la recherche du tempts perdu – originally translated as Remembrance Of Things Past but now generally known in English as In Search Of Lost Time – considerably fewer have actually read it – I suspect it holds some kind of record for being the book which is most often started but not finished – so it’s worth spending a little time explaining what it’s all about. Over the course of seven volumes, we follow an early 20th century narrator who tells us about events in his and his family’s life in French high society, often through a process called ‘Involuntary Memory’, in which an individual is bombarded by recollections triggered by the simplest of events – most famously, in the first volume, tasting a Madeleine tea cake. By the end of the final volume, the narrator – identified as Marcel – has resolved to write the novel that we have been reading. The work is sprawling, complex and often hard-going since Proust is quite capable of spending a couple of hundred pages on a single evening. But it’s also endlessly fascinating, not least as a study of how memory only comes alive when we experience it as a pure physical sensation which allows us to live in both past and present at the same time.
Time Regained, based on the seventh volume of the novel, in its cinematic form is a mixed blessing. Viewers who are already au fait with Proust are likely to adore it, and with good reason. Although it has a new framing device and diverges from the final volume as written, it’s packed with characters and scenes from the entire novel and is often scrupulously faithful to the written word – notably a lengthy concert attended by Marcel towards the end. However, those who are unfamiliar with the novel may be completely baffled by what’s going on since characters often appear and depart with startling abruptness. The whole feel of the film – yearning, poignant, ghostly – is so bound up with the book that it does little to endear itself to the uninitiated.
However, there’s no denying that this is a very classy package indeed. Ruiz has a delightfully fluid style, captures exactly the right feeling of period and works wonders with a superb cast which includes Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart and John Malkovich as the ageing homosexual, the Baron De Charlus. Throughout the film, the production and costume design are lavish and sumptuous and the music score by Jorge Arriagada is divine.
Time Regained was previously released on DVD by Artificial Eye. Second Sight’s new Region 0 DVD offers a lovely 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer which has rich colours and a crystal clear image. There are no extra features.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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