Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

"Le Temps retrouvé"

by Henri Béhar

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Many have tried to adapt Marcel Proust's humungous masterpiece, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Time Past). Luchino Visconti started working with scriptwriter Suso Cecchi d'Amico while he was shooting Death in Venice (quite a Proustian film, that). Dirk Bogarde was to play Swann, and it was rumored that Garbo would come out of retirement to play Madame de Guermantes. Visconti never got the financing together.

Much later, Harold Pinter worked on a new adaptation at Joseph Losey's request. The two men had already worked together on The Servant, Accident and The Go-Between. Visconti wanted to ignore the last part, Le Temps Retrouvé, Pinter wanted to do the whole thing. Losey was no more successful than Visconti in getting his project financed.

Years later, Volker Schlöndorff came up with one segment of the Proust saga. Swann in Love starred Jeremy Irons and Alain Delon as Monsieur de Charlus, the part superbly played by John Malkovich in Raoul Ruiz's Le Temps Retrouvé.

All this to say that succeeding in bringing Proust to the screen was no mean feat. And Ruiz's approach (with tremendous help by scriptwriter Gilles Taurand) starts with an almost banal dramatic device: the actor who plays Proust (Marcello Mazzarella, a dead ringer for the writer) looks at a series of photographs showing the main characters, and as he mentions their names, their voices and laughter come into play.

And play we will, in an intriguing hall of mirrors, for Odette de Crécy is both Odette de Crécy and Catherine Deneuve playing Odette de Crécy. And Mr. de Charlus is both Mr. de Charlus and John Malkovich playing Mr. de Charlus.

To do justice, however, to this fascinating, but also at times infuriatingly distant film, one should see it again. There is no doubt Raoul Ruiz's opus will be shown on the festival circuit this fall (Toronto, New York), plenty of time then to make a date of it.

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