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Regained (Le Temps Retrouve) (1999)
With Time Regained, director Raśl Ruiz makes a 180 degree turnaround from
his last outing, a forgettable commercial thriller, Shattered Image. Here he takes on the last volume of
Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, generally considered to
be one of the great literary works of the twentieth century, a huge, multilayered novel
with a large cast of characters who interact in patterns of great complexity over many
years. No one has dared to attempt the entire work on film; that could only be imagined as
a series of several films - a project of such cost and complexity that art film economics
would seem to rule out the possibility.
Volker Schlondorff's 1984 entry, Swann in Love, broached only
the first volume and it was rather like a bland hors d'oeuvre in the great feast that is
Ruiz certainly found devoted investors for his project. Time
Regained has been produced lavishly, with a superb cast gorgeously costumed and
placed in elegant period interiors. If Schlondorff offered an hors d'oeuvre, then,
presumably, with the final volume, Ruiz has cooked up dessert. The problem, of course, is
that the main course is missing, and a digestif might be welcome as well.
The intricacies of the changing characters and relationships over the
period of the entire novel are all of a piece, each character, each event, each love and
each betrayal complexly interwoven. Ruiz has treated the source with great fidelity and
respect. His own artistry is evident in the shaded characterizations he draws from his
actors, the gentle excursions he makes into surrealistic imagery to suggest thematic
lines, and the sure hand with which he creates both intimate scenes and larger ensembles.
Ruiz is adept with the visual (water rushing over the stones in a
stream bed, top hats and folded gloves lined up neatly in rows, a broken china cup saved
in a wooden box, news footage of the war shown on a large screen in an elegant dining
salon, a funeral cortege on a beach) as well as the aural (bells, chimes, a buzzing fly, a
wrench clanging on the wheel of a train). And there is the evocative idea of shrapnel from
the war shaped into jewelry and great lines like "Heartbreak can kill, but leaves no
trace" and "Once you learn not to blush, you will be a perfect gentleman."
The director's creativity and the richness of the source combine to provide a plethora of
The central conceit with which Ruiz tries to unify the film is the
character of Proust himself, Marcel (Marcello Mazzarella), the rather passive, but alert
observer of the events happening around him. But Time Regained is missing
dramatic momentum: it is a beautiful, moody dream-piece that floats amongst its many
characters, back and forth in time, without a coherent structure to provide needed
cogency. It offers a wealth of imagery and incident that the thoughtful (and patient)
viewer can dip into for delicious moments and bits of insight, but - even at some
two and three-quarters hours - it doesn't get to the essential connectivity of
Proust's work. Those with no familiarity with the book will be hard pressed to keep track
of who is who, and who is doing what to whom and why.
It may be that Remembrance of Things Past simply cannot
survive the transition to the screen. Or, perhaps, a writer/director will yet come along
who can successfully transmute the essence of the novel into a work of equal artistry in
- Arthur Lazere.