For the sake of perspective, this review should begin with a confession: Your critic knows little of Proust. I haven't read any Proust. Most quotes I've heard from the deeply philosophical writer have come from the mouths of people so full of themselves that the words went in one ear and out the other out of disdain for the speaker. I admit it, I'm an ignoramus on this front.
So as you come to realize that I didn't much care for "Time Regained," the French film adaptation of Marcel Proust's last novel, feel free to draw the conclusion that I haven't the slightest idea what I'm talking about.
What little I do know of Proust, however, leads me to believe if the man were alive today he would scoff at the idea that the deliberate formlessness of "Time" could successfully be adapted to film.
As envisioned by director Paul Ruiz ("Genealogies of a Crime"), the picture -- as near as I can tell -- takes place inside Proust's mind as he lies on his death bed in 1922 and his memories mix with characters and events from his books. It trips around in an initially fascinating dreamscape like an aristocratic "Alice In Wonderland" set inside a Rene Magritte painting.
It's handsome, abstractly photographed (often with inanimate objects in focus in the foreground and characters in the back), heavily symbolic, immersed in thought and strongly acted as it bounces, almost free-form around in time, following a man (Marcello Mazzarella) I thought was supposed to be Proust himself (more on that later) as he practices detachment in a world of over-educated, expensively dressed dandies, their wives and mistresses, lost loves from his youth, relatives, revolutionaries, soldiers, gossips, philosophers, musicians and idle rich men dabbling in homosexuality.
But it's nearly impossible to keep track of who all these people are in these real/surreal episodes that have little apparent structure. Catherine Deveuve, Emmanuelle Beart, John Malkovich and Vincent Perez all figure prominently in the story, but I couldn't for the life of me keep track of what was going on with any of them for even four minutes together. So all I caught was that Malkovich plays a baron with a secret penchant for S&M, Perez plays the piano well enough to get paid for it and Beart is a beauty this Marcel Proust-like guy once loved unrequitedly and has never forgotten. (Although toward the end he says "I loved Albertine above all," and Beart's character was named Gilberte, so color me confused.)
I say "this Marcel Proust-like guy" because while trying to make sense of the film by reading the press kit, I came across this passage that only baffled me further:
"For the sake of convenience, we have named this character -- the witness who relates all that he thinks he sees, understands or guesses -- Marcel. Although he is a ubiquitous presence in 'Time Regained,' he does not figure prominently."
In other words, if I read this right, this Marcel fellow -- on whom the camera focuses 75 percent of the time in every single scene in the film -- isn't necessarily Proust and isn't really the main character. In fact he's not really a character at all but merely a conduit through which we see the other characters.
Umm, okey dokey.
Listen, I like having to think in a movie. I like being challenged. Even when I can't wrap my head around a picture, I've been known to enjoy it anyway. But either 1) a working knowledge of Proust is a prerequisite here, 2) I missed something significant in the course of this flick, or 3) "Time Regained" is just tedious, pretentious, rhetorical nonsense that darn near put me to sleep.
Run time: 169 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 19th May 1999
Distributed by: Kino International
Production compaines: Gemini Films, France 2 Cinéma, Les Films du Lendemain
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 8
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Paul Ruiz
Starring: Catherine Deneuve as Odette de Crecy, Emmanuelle Béart as Gilberte, Vincent Pérez as Morel, John Malkovich as Le Baron de Charlus, Pascal Greggory as Saint-Loup, Marcello Mazzarella as Marcel Proust
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