22 August 2010 | jandesimpson
An admirable attempt at the unfilmable
Let's face it, Proust's monumental "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" is probably unfilmable. The Chilean director Raoul Ruiz had a commendable shot at adapting the final volume "Time Regained" in 1999 that achieved a certain measure of critical acclaim in spite of being rather diffuse with not all the characters clearly presented. ( I think you have to know the novel well to fully appreciate it). A rather more satisfying attempt appeared fifteen years before with Volker Schlondorff's "Swann in Love". By concentrating more modestly on what is really a vignette, a novella tucked within the vast structure, Schlondorf achieved a work with a real sense of cinematic concentration. There is no Marcel, whose endless reminiscences are something of a kiss of death to film narrative and no confusingly vast set of characters to get to grips with. There is simply Swann, the man about town, his obsessive pursuit of the whore, Odette, and the characters he bumps into during the course of a short space of time and a brief epilogue some years later. It is a very free adaptation. I cannot remember the Baron de Charlus appearing much at this early stage of the novel, but, as he is one of Proust's most fascinating creations, his presence is welcome, even if John Malkovich in the later version is better cast than Alain Delon. What strikes most forcibly is Schlondorff's unflinching look at a thoroughly decadent and degenerate society. In studying only the rich he paints a portrait of the lengths they are prepared to go to satisfy hedonistic pleasure and, in the case of Swann, lust. In an amazingly frank scene he sodomises a prostitute but is obviously more interested in obtaining information about Odette from her than in what he is doing. Sven Nykvist's camera glides through salons stuffed with rich objects and people: this is a world where the poor simply do not exist. All around however are flunkies whose sole purpose in life is to serve their masters uncomplainingly. Just occasionally a look, such as the coachman Remi's, when he is ordered by Swann to drive him half the night in his pursuit of Odette, says it all.