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[whitespace] Emmanuelle Béart
Timeless Beauty: Emmanuelle Béart plays Marcel Proust's Gilberte.

Past Imperfect

'Time Regained' offers bold but confusing interpretation of Proust's novel

By Richard von Busack

LISTEN: Marcel Proust has become unstuck in time. Time Regained is Raúl Ruiz's lengthy and baffling adaptation of one of literature's most difficult classics. I watched Time Regained with the disadvantage of never having succeeded in reading the seven-volume novel by Marcel Proust (1871-1922): À la recherche du temps perdu, a title usually translated as Remembrance of Things Past and published 1913-1927. Time Regained adapts only the final volume (Le temps retrouvé). Thus, Ruiz complicates matters for the uninitiated by beginning at the end.

Time Regained is in essence one long flashback by the dying Proust, slowly asphyxiating with asthma, in his humidor, that famous cork-lined bedroom to which no bit of pollen, no gram of unfiltered air, could be admitted. His reveries tie up the epic; we see the last of his friends, Baron de Charlus (John Malkovich), and the end of Saint-Loup (Pascal Greggory), the arrogant soldier who conceals a jealous, broken heart. The passing reference to "Swann, the collector" is unexplained in Time Regained, though we do meet the ruins of Swann's ruination, Odette de Crécy (Catherine Deneuve). She turns up in middle age, the property of a peevish, jealous old aristocrat.

Here also is the summing up of Proust's love life with Gilberte (Emmanuelle Béart) and Albertine (Chiara Mastroianni), the narrator's two great loves. The Great War catalyzes the fall of the old order of aristocrats, who so fascinated and repulsed Proust. In the end, Proust learns of the uncertain sexuality and fidelity of those he loved. The shock causes his retreat from society.

The film is loaded with insinuation--the hints of long-forgotten scandal and liaison--and the movie, about a pride of French sphinxes, presents a frustrating puzzle. Ruiz has cut 45 minutes of the film for American distribution, and from the way what's left scans, I don't think he did the narrative a favor by trimming it.

Director Ruiz is a prolific Chilean expatriate well-known on the film-fest circuit. His mordant yet playful Genealogies of a Crime is very recommended. As befits the man who made that eerie comedy, Ruiz avoids the Theatre Chef d'Oeuvre (Masterpiece Theater) look of the typical French classic adapted for the screen. He uses deliberate artifice: blue scrims for skies, props wheeled away from the camera, dream-sequence statues out of Magritte. Time Regained even has a literally Buñuelian moment when Saint-Loup shows Proust a stereopticon slide of the atrocities of World War I--when we see it, the slide turns into a movie, the scene of the dying mule from Buñuel's Land Without Bread. Ruiz's film is a bold interpretation, if not a flexible and coherent film. Never boring, but never quite comprehensible, Time Regained seems to be shards of Proust. Like the broken teacup treasured by Gilberte, Time Regained might serve as a keepsake of an ideal Proust movie.

Time Regained (Unrated; 162 min.), directed by Raúl Ruiz, written by Ruiz and Gilles Taurand, based on the novel by Proust, photographed by Ricardo Aronovich and starring Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart and John Malkovich, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the August 3-9, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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