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Lost love: Emmanuelle Beart plays the narrator's old flame in Time Regained.

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 Raul Ruiz's lengthy and ultimately 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 Proust (1871-1922): À la recherche du temps perdu, a title usually translated as "Remembrance of Things Past," and published 1913-27.

Time Regained is the adaptation of Proust's final volume (Le Temps retrouvé). Thus, Ruiz complicates matters for the uninitiated by beginning at the end.

Time Regained is really one long flashback by the dying Proust, slowly asphyxiating with asthma in his humidor, that famous cork-lined bedroom to which no gram of unfiltered air could be admitted. His reveries tie up the epic; we see the last of his friend Baron de Charlus, the end of Saint-Loup (Pascal Greggory), the arrogant soldier who conceals a 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 Beart) and Albertine (Chiara Mastroianni), the narrator's two great loves. In the end, Proust learns of the uncertain sexuality and fidelity of those he loved. The shock causes his retreat from society.

As critic Edmund Wilson sees Proust's landmark work, "Despite all of its humor and beauty it is one of the gloomiest books ever written." He qualifies this gloom by mentioning the Baron de Charlus, whom Wilson likens to Falstaff and the comic characters of Dickens. De Charlus is the ultimate wealthy decadent, so finicky that he even chooses the accent of the male prostitute hired to flog him. As played by John Malkovich, de Charlus is astringent as battery acid. But we have only 15 minutes with de Charlus, and then the confusion descends again.

Loaded with insinuations, the movie is 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. As befits the man who made the mordant yet playful Genealogies of a Crime, 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 and props wheeled away from the camera.

Ultimately, 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 screens Friday, July 28, through Thursday, Aug. 3, at 7:15 p.m. on weekdays and 4 and 7:15 p.m. on weekends at the Rafael Theater, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415/454-1222.

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From the July 27-August 2, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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