Time Regained

Every novel requires a fair amount of pruning for the screen, so the challenge is to streamline the story while preserving its meaning. If nothing else, Raúl Ruiz's Time Regained is an almost perversely ambitious adaptation, a two-and-a-half-hour reverie on the sixth and final volume of Marcel Proust's magnum opus, Remembrance Of Things Past. Still more perverse, Ruiz has designed it as a companion to the novel rather than a fully (or even partially) comprehensible work in its own right, mounting a lavish, expensive international production that will leave all but Proust scholars out in the cold. Yet the film, however quixotic, is an accomplished and impressive achievement, particularly in the way Ruiz translates Proust's narrative digressions into formal flights of fancy. Rather than straighten out the timeline, Ruiz and co-writer Gilles Taurand configure the scenes like narrative pirouettes, with fragments of time constantly turning in on themselves. All it takes is a single spark of memory—a smell, a gesture, an object—for Proust's alter ego, Marcello Mazzarella, to transport himself to another point in his personal history. Unfortunately, his memories have little emotional resonance because there's no way of knowing how the other characters might have affected him; they just float, ghost-like, in and out of the narrative. A couple of characters make a strong impression, including Emmanuelle Béart as the withering object of Mazzarella's childhood infatuation and a badly dubbed John Malkovich as an aristocratic baron whose cultured manner hides darker secrets. If Ruiz's goal was simply to find a cinematic equivalent to Proust's writing style, he's succeeded, fluidly gliding through time on a clever sound edit or frozen tableau. Were Remembrance Of Things Past ever given an expansive, Berlin Alexanderplatz-style treatment, he would be an ideal choice to direct it. But with Time Regained, the text has been so truncated that, no matter how rich his understanding of the material, it doesn't make enough sense to translate to the uninitiated.

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