Thursday Editor’s Pick: Time Regained (1999)

by on August 18, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Thurs Aug 25 at 7:30 at 92YTribeca [Program & Tix]


While Raoul Ruiz’s The Mysteries of Lisbon (considered by many to be the pinnacle of his career) plays up at Lincoln Center, the website Not Coming to a Theater Near You treats audiences to its earlier companion piece, a ravishing adaptation of Proust that clocks in at a less intimidating two and a half hours (to Lisbon‘s four and a half!). Check back on the site closer to the screening for a sure-to-be-astute essay on the film.


Meanwhile, J. Hoberman for the Village Voice:

Writing in the light of the Lumière brothers’ cinematographe, Proust sought to have his readers visualize temporality; filming at the dawn of the digital era, Ruiz allows the flow of static images through the movie projector to merge with the stream of time, while pondering the paradox of memories fixed in emulsion. Time Regained‘s characters are introduced as the dying Proust shuffles through his collection of photos. “Then one day,” he muses, “everything changes.”


The most exhilarating movie-movie of the year… At times, Time Regained suggests an irreverently lively, historical, and colorized version of Last Year at Marienbad. Playfully jumbling time and space, freezing the moment and choreographing long, fluid takes, doubling back to jump ahead, it’s full of surprises. The most amazing thing is that this may be the most relaxed movie Ruiz has ever made. Would that it were the most commercially successful. The daring of the conception is matched only by the brilliance of the execution.


With misplaced nostalgia, contemporary filmmakers continue to revisit those literary classics written before there were movies. Ruiz is more creatively anachronistic. This is a 20th-century movie about a 20th-century novel. The filmmaker attempts to approximate not Proust’s prose but rather the writer’s modernist, multiple-perspective simultaneity. People are simultaneously old and young. Marcel wanders through the crypt after his child self. As the camera moves, statues parade through a shifting foreground. Time Regained is a testament to Marcel’s understanding that “the true paradises are those we lost”—which is to say that the pleasure it provides is the involuntary memory of cinema itself.



Keith Reader for Sight & Sound:

The less-than-linear form of the synopsis above illustrates one of the major difficulties in filming or writing about Proust’s towering classic of modernity. The story of an invalid writer facing premature death who retrieves through art his childhood anxieties and adult frivolities, the gap between the overarching narrative and the myriad smaller narratives which comprise A la recherche is too vast to be bridged even in a film as long as this. Earlier Proust-based films have dealt with this problem by narrowing their focus to the microcosm that is Un Amour de Swann (Volker Schlöndorff’s film of that title), or to the final days of the historical Proust’s life as he wrote against the clock of death (Percy Adlon’s superb Céleste). For Time Regained Raoul Ruiz adapts a similar strategy, but goes for broke by concentrating on the work’s final volume, in which its multifarious narrative strands converge and it becomes clear that its end is in its beginning. The result is richer and more inclusive in its sweep than previous adaptations and more visually spectacular. The colours – notably the gold of many of the salon scenes echoing the sands of Balbec or the architecture of Venice – are ravishing, and the movements of the camera, at once caressing and sweeping, impart a thrill rarely encountered in the cinema.


Nonetheless, Time Regained is anything but a heritage movie, as you would expect for a film made by a Chilean expatriate with a background in leftist politics and experimental film-making. Ruiz rewrites Proust in cinematic terms. The camera movements – particularly at the end where we move from the Guermantes salon through a ‘room of memory’ dotted with top hats to a terrace and the beach at Balbec – correspond to the oscillations of the written narration between the recollected and the imagined, the past and the present. In this respect the film evokes Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, notably in the salon scenes (Madame Verdurin’s high-pitched laugh, as if poised on the brink of hysteria, echoes Delphine Seyrig’s in Marienbad) Time Regained is a tour de force, gorgeous yet stark. That starkness is achieved partly through the constant threat or actual presence of war which gives an edge to the scenes of brittle social comedy, partly through the unflinching way the film treats such scenes as Charlus’ flagellation in Jupien’s gay bordello, which offsets potential charges of voyeurism by the exquisitely simple device of framing the narrating Marcel in a window as the blows descend. The cast are on the whole splendid.


Time Out (London):

An extraordinary conflation of avant garde art film and deluxe literary period drama, this ambitious assault on Proust’s 15th volume in Remembrance of Things Past constitutes a peculiar triumph. Numerous film-makers have been defeated in the attempt, but exiled Chilean Ruiz never hesitates. His version is a bold, dazzling time trip which nevertheless honours the complexity of the original, and indeed will likely play best to those already familiar with it. The first scene serves notice that this is no ordinary adaptation: as Marcel (Mazzarella) dictates from his deathbed, and the camera pans across mementoes from a life among the French aristocracy at the turn of the last century, the furnishings loom ever larger, as if mocking the author with his own mortality. Ruiz goes on to use the full panoply of surrealist camera tricks. We’re plunged into the very thick of French high society, as Marcel remembers his love for Gilberte (Béart), her equally ravishing mother Odette (Deneuve), the controversial Baron de Charlus (Malkovich), and his affair with the composer Morel (Perez). Now, it must be said, it’s a toss-up which is more bewildering: the extremely entangled social relations which form the chief topic of everyone’s conversation, or Ruiz’s elegant, avant garde party tricks. Yet the starry cast helps us keep track (Malkovich is outstanding, even in French), and sustained over a mighty 155 minutes, the film casts quite a spell. Proust watches on, a smile on his face and a tear in his eye; the director’ s ‘happy confusion’ sums it up very well.



Roger Ebert for the Chicago Tribune:

The movie opens with an old man in bed (Marcello Mazzarella) being brought tea by his maid. He looks through photographs, which trigger memories, as the furniture in the room rearranges itself for other times. The movie circles the memories. We meet the women who once so captivated him. Here is Gilberte (Emmanuelle Beart). He did not love her so much as learn from her that he could love. Here is her mother, Odette (Catherine Deneuve). And Albertine (Chiara Mastroianni), another more troublesome love; in real life Mastroianni is Deneuve’s daughter, and the resemblance suggests Albertine’s subterranean connection with Odette . . . and her mother. What does it mean? The photographs evoke but do not explain.


Here is Gilberte’s eventual husband, Robert de Saint-Loup (Pascal Greggory). He is composed, intact, as a younger man, but then he goes into the trench warfare of World War I, and when he returns he is crazed by his memories, and talks while shoveling food into his mouth like an animal who wants to eat before larger animals steal his kill. And here is Baron de Charlus (John Malkovich), who plays the role of the slightly elevated, bemused observer–a man like the man we all have in our lives, who seems to stand outside and have a wider view. In my high school that was David Ogden Stiers. Yes, the actor who played Winchester on “MASH.” He has never attended a reunion, but is discussed every 10 years by the rest of us, who recall in wonder that he always talked like that. He came to Urbana from Peoria. Where did he learn to talk like Winchester? Tall, confident and twinkling, he would ask, “And what have we here?” “Time Regained” does not tell a story, and you will be disappointed if you go looking for one. It does not contain anything like all of Remembrance of Things Past, because the novel is too vast to be contained in a film. It is not about memories but memory. Yours, mine, Proust’s. Memory makes us human. Without it, we would live trapped inside the moving dot of time as it slides through our lives. But to remember the past is to experience its loss.


Michael Wilmington also raves for the Chicago-Tribune:

Raul Ruiz’s adaptation of the seventh and last volume of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” — is an odd and exquisite triumph, a movie of such ravishing complexity, sophistication and intelligence that, even as you watch it unfold voluptuously on screen, you may marvel that it was made at all, much less made this well.


Beautiful to look at, stimulating to contemplate, brilliantly acted and made with deep sympathy, inspiration and unusual understanding, Ruiz’s “Time Regained” takes one of the most defiantly intricate and hermetically personal novels of the 20th Century and makes its translation to cinema look effortless and inevitable. Ruiz, one of the most prolific of all world filmmakers, has never made a film as good, and few other current French directors have matched him. Yet “Time Regained,” unfortunately, is not a picture that will instantly communicate all its delights to every audience. Wondrously rich as it is, many viewers will have to work to appreciate (or sometimes even grasp) all of “Time’s” curious glories. Unlike Volker Schlondorff’s visually lush but heavily criticized 1984 “Swann in Love” (which was based on “Swann’s Way,” the first volume of “Remembrance”) “Time Regained” may appeal more strongly to audiences familiar with Proust’s writing than to the non-initiates. Devotees of Proust should admire or at least respect Ruiz’s efforts; newcomers may be confused, dazzled or annoyed. But why should we restrict ourselves, in life or film, to only those things that come easily?


A musical exploration of his themes, and a lavishly detailed window on his old world, it is a film built on reverie — on memory, subjectivity, deliberate distortion or hallucination. Time has been fractured and reordered, torn out of sequence. Events tumble madly after each other, sliding from one era to the next, out of joint. In a recurring, delicately nightmarish image, the young Marcel glides impossibly through his surroundings, transported as if by an invisible camera-crane of memory.



Andrew Sarris for the New York Observer:

Mr. Ruiz has chosen not to dramatize Proust but, rather, to evoke him through lushly photographed interiors, polished surfaces and doors opening from one period to another, from one party to another, from one conversation to another. Meanwhile, outdoors, a war is raging on the outskirts of Paris and the aristocrats in Proust’s circle are making life-and-death decisions, but it is all a swirl of aphorisms, petty malicious gossip and a degree of libertinage that would still cause tremors in today’s media-mad world if we treated it as casually as did Proust’s intimates. In the Proustian world, everything is spoken about freely but almost nothing is shown graphically.


In the midst of all the swirl, Marcelo Mazzerello walks, talks, listens and observes as the authorial presence of Proust himself. In the end, we celebrate the author’s genius in creating a work that will make him an eternal inspiration to people of taste and culture. See this movie.


Phillip Lopate for Film Comment (July/Aug 2000):

Time Regained is both an apotheosis and a departure for Raul Ruiz. This most prolific, self-conscious and avant-garde filmmaker, who has turned out nearly a hundred movies and videos, many on a shoestring, often casual, parodic, cryptic, suddenly gives us a stately, polished, mimetic, moving and faithful adaptation of a literary classic, the last volume in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, with a star cast that includes Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich, Emmanuelle Beart and Vincent Perez. Ruizians are apt to feel betrayed, to prejudge it as a sort of period costume/big-budget sellout a la Brideshead Revisited or Merchant-Ivory; Proustians, who would find any cinematic version of this most interior of literary masterworks a vulgar reduction, will cringe at this or that casting choice that conflicts with their own mental images of Proust’s characters; and the French, jealously guarding their cultural patrimony, will carp that the Chilean exile didn’t get certain details or accents right. Meanwhile, the general public – especially if they haven’t read Proust may find themselves baffled by this almost-three-hour epic, which juggles scores of characters, floats between time frames, and seems to lack a central dramatic focus. If these factors explain why the picture has yet to receive either the cineastes’ green light or the middlebrow enthusiasm it deserves, it remains to be said that Time Regained is one of the most intelligent and substantial films of our day.


In his intriguing book of essays, Poetics of Cinema (Dis Voir, 1996), Ruiz argues against central conflict theory, which he sees as the American cinema paradigm: “To say that a story can only take place if it is connected to a central conflict forces us to eliminate all stories which do not include confrontation and to leave aside all events which require only indifference or detached curiosity, like a landscape, a distant storm, or dinner with friends – unless such scenes punctuate two fights between the bad guys and the good guys. Even more than scenes devoid of action, central conflict theory banishes what are called mixed scenes: an ordinary meal interrupted by an incomprehensible incident with neither rhyme or reason, and no future either, so that it all ends up as an ordinary meal once more. Worse yet, it leaves no room for serial scenes, that is action scenes which follow in sequence without ever knitting into the same flow.”


One way to look at Time Regained, then, is as a series of “mixed scenes” or “serial scenes,” in which some– thing neutral is followed by something dramatic is followed by something banal or embarrassing, etc. I should explain that very few of these scenes occur as scenes in the novel: rather, Ruiz and his co-screenwriter Gilles Taurand have lifted lines of a character’s dialogue that Proust may have quoted in passing, often in the midst of an interior monologue, and knitted them together into dramatic units. There is no attempt to follow the order in which these lines appeared in the novel: some snatches of speech may be combined from hundreds of pages apart, but the dialogue is either taken directly from Proust, or paraphrased from the text. In short, in its own way, the film is remarkably faithful to its source material. But it is also faithful to Ruiz’s schema that a scene need not revolve around one action, or that successive scenes need not connect into one dramatic “flow.”



Jonathan Rosenbaum on his blog:

For better and for worse, Ruiz’s version is closer to a game than an adventure — not so much a lesson about life as an elaborate piece of playfulness… Perhaps the best justification for this movie is the old chestnut that Proust is profoundly cinematic, an idea the film doesn’t so much prove as endlessly play with. Ever since I first became interested in film criticism I’ve been fascinated by a 1946 article by Jacques Bourgeois — published in La revue du cinéma, a postwar precursor of Cahiers du cinéma — arguing that Proust’s novelistic techniques anticipate those of cinema in general and Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane in particular. One of Bourgeois’ best ideas is that Proust’s labyrinthine sentences proceed like camera movements — an insight whose truth becomes more apparent if one compares Proust’s long sentences with those of, say, Henry James or William Faulkner, which bear no apparent relation to pans, tracks, or cranes. Welles is of course Ruiz’s avowed master, and a good deal of Time Regained seems to proceed like an extension of Bourgeois’ stylistic comparison, with not only camera movements but the gliding displacements of objects and characters re-creating some of the complex, winding journeys of Proust’s sentences. At a climactic concert at a party, rows of listeners can be seen gliding off in separate directions as if on separate mind journeys, and in a much earlier surreal sequence featuring newsreel war footage in a cafe, the narrator, reading a letter, can be seen rising with his chair like a film director seated on a crane, all the way to the top of the room, where he encounters his own childhood self running a projector — an image that might be traced, like much else, to one of Proust’s extended descriptive passages.


Ruiz offers both a beautiful reduction and a translation that substantially shifts the meaning and emphasis of the original. It deals adroitly with those aspects of reading Proust that are like taking an exquisite theme-park ride, but can’t do much with elements that elude that experience. And characteristically, Ruiz’s taste for surrealism is allowed to overtake the novel’s depictions of shaped experience in many of the film’s most striking images, such as a crowd of upturned top hats covering the floor of an ornate antechamber.


Robert Castle for Bright Lights Film Journal:

A life dedicated to literature and art, I thought then, meant all things must give way to aesthetic consideration. Nothing was pertinent — life, religion, politics, marriage, history, death — without it. Art justifies human existence. Ruiz’s film captures part of Marcel’s revelation, the freedom from death, but it is a rhetorical, not a cinematic, revelation. What Time Regained accomplishes, though, is nearly as effective. It displaces the novel’s impact on the viewer, a delicate maneuver that can only be sensed by the reader of Proust. This is why I said earlier that Raul Ruiz accomplished one of the most courageous ventures in film history. First, to take on Proust, a complete impossibility; then, to allow the film’s satisfactions to be communicated only to select viewers.


The breach between reading Proust and watching a film of his work becomes the very memory of reading the novel. We are never too arrested by the “nothing” of Proust’s social denizens nor too diverted by remembering the literary magnificence of Proust’s writing. In fact, we regain the discipline and instruction from Remembrance of Things Past to learn from life in the other direction, the direction to which the involuntary memory leads us, forward, away from the protocol of the future


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