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If you're unfamiliar with the novel, the film might present difficulties (details)
on April 4, 2011
One of the longest novels in the history of the planet (3,000+ pages) is Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time: Proust 6-pack (Proust Complete). It makes War and Peace (Vintage Classics) run off and squeak in terms of sheer weight. Time Regained: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. VI (Modern Library Classics) (v. 6) is the sixth and final volume of the novel series.
In the 1999 film/DVD version under review here, the viewer tracks the life of the author, Marcel Proust (1871-1922), out of sequence, as the protagonist of the original novel mentally relives a retrospective of his past. He attempts to complete his great novel from his deathbed so we see his interactions from that perspective, and intermittently as vignettes of his past. It's this aspect of the film which might generate great confusion for some viewers who are unfamiliar with Proust's Magnum opus novel, additionally complicated by the fact that the novel itself is conveyed by the most lyrical of prose and as through a diaphanous lens, some in real time and some in retrospect. The setting is early 20th Century France. The backdrop for the film is largely that of World War I.
Proust wrote of a strange life, at least from a contemporary paradigm. He tells of life among the nobility in Paris and at other locations such as Balbec. His relatives were quite the sheltering kind and there seems to be an invisible shield over him from that point forward. Life experiences for him run the gambit from venomous gossip to homosexual brothels. Proust always seems to be on the outside looking in to the lives of this collection of musicians, writers, military officers, nobles and the like, most of whom manifest some pretty bizarre affinities.
For those who know Proust, yes, you'll get [the odious] Odette, Gilberte, St. Loup, and Albertine... in fact one is exposed to most of the prime players of the novel, albeit often in little more than a flash.
I loved the cinematography of this film which features very strong and hazy backlighting, particularly during Proust's periods of reminiscing; however, this gives rise to a great problem for the typical American viewer: the film is conveyed in the French language with English subtitles which frequently disappear into the intense backlighting. I more-or-less guesstimated that I was deprived of between 2-4 percent of the dialogue. The translation itself was excellent but those quirky subtitles were quite discouraging at times -- a great shame!
The international slate of actors includes Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart, Vincent Perez, and John Malkovich (Beowulf (Unrated Director's Cut).) This 158-minute French production was strategically directed by Raoul Ruiz. The superb classical soundtrack, composed by Gorge Arriagada, is thankfully available: Le Temps Retrouvé (Time Regained).
For me, I can hardly generate adequate praise for this pure art film... but then I've recently read the novel. But, on the other hand, I would not wish in any way to discourage anyone from taking in this fine dramatic film. Recommended to fans both of the book(s) and of the genre.