(Le Temps Retrouve) Directed by Raoul Ruiz.

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There are a few great films (for example Last Year in Marienbad, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Mirror) which explore the subject of memory, as distinct from simply using the flashback technique to portray what a character is recalling. To this select list must now be added Time Regained (Le Temps Retrouve), by prolific Chilean director, Raoul Ruiz, a loose 158-minute adaptation of the final volume of Marcel Proust's vast semi-autobiographical novel Remembrance of Things Past.

A word of warning if you know nothing of the novel you will find the film ravishing to look at but utterly confusing. Innumerable characters drift in and out of lavishly decorated Parisian salons, linked only by the narrator Marcel who casts a faintly amused eye over the proceedings. 

For the uninitiated: the book tells how the author/narrator Marcel, after experiencing many years of life, love, and changes in Parisian society, comes to realise that his life's mission is to set It all down in a book, the very one we have been reading. (This self-reflexivity is similar to that of Fellini's 8 1/2, which ends with the director deciding to make the film we have just been watching. ) One of the book's many themes is that of memory, in particular the way long-forgotten events in our lives can be triggered by sights, smells, or tastes (the famous episode of the petit madeleine cake). This is related to the ideas of the French philosopher Bergson. who argued that time should not and cannot be measured scientifically. 

Proustian films have a limited history, in keeping with the generally-held view that the book is unfilmable. Around 1970 Harold Pinter wrote a screenplay, which appeared only in printed form, although the Italian director Visconti toyed with the idea of filming it. Two German directors tackled the subject obliquely in the 1980s: Percy Adlon's Celeste was based on the reminiscences of Proust's last days by his housekeeper, while Victor Schlondorff’s, Swann in Love was a partially successful attempt at filming a self-contained 200-page section of the novel. 

As indicated above, Ruiz has avoided the trap of attempting a direct transposition of the Time Regained volume of the novel. The film begins in 1922, with the dying Proust struggling to finish his novel before his time runs out, the rest of the film being a kind of stream-of-consciousness succession of memories from his life (or from the novel: the two are virtually interchangeable).

Many of the book’s themes remain in the film: the pretensions of social climbers, the effects of World War I on society, homosexuality, or what Proust referred to as ‘inversion’ (in the person of the Baron du Charlus), the power of early childhood memories, the ravages of time on once-beautiful people. Inevitably other themes are excluded, such as the effect of the Dreyfus affair on French life. Several major characters in the book (Swann, Albertine) make only fleeting appearances. This doesn’t matter, the film has no ‘plot’, it is simply a succession of memories.

I have referred to the film as ‘ravishing‘; it is certainly sumptuous in the extreme, making Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence for example, look like a kitchen-sink drama. I cannot fault the performances. Marcel is Vincent Perez, with a somewhat detached look as if he is soaking up everything he experiences to use in his novel. Top billing, although with lesser roles, is given to Catherine Deneuve and Emmanuelle Beart, who do all that can be expected of them; I feel increasingly that Beart will one day take over Deneuve's role as the queen of French cinema. John Malkovitch plays Charlus, his slow speech and foreign-sounding accent (to French ears) conveying something of the sinister strangeness of the character. Ruiz’s roving camera, circling slowly around the salons and other locations catches the mood of the ever-roving memory of the dying Marcel. 

What of the director himself! It is said that he has lost count of the number of films he has made, although hardly any have been released in the U .K. (in common with at least two other directors of interest to me, Zanussi and de Oliveira). His earlier films are said to be rather like intellectual puzzles, so Time Regained would seem to be something of a departure. 

One final complaint: I cannot understand the ‘18’ certificate which the British censors have given the film. Admittedly one lengthy scene takes place in a homosexual brothel, but there is nothing particularly explicit, whether visual or verbal. Plenty of ‘15’ certificate films are far more objectionable on such grounds. 

So, whether you’ve read Remembrance of Things Past or would like a flavour of it without doing so I Strongly recommend Ruiz's film. 

Alan Pavelin

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