FR 1999, dir. Raul Ruiz, stars Catherine Deneuve, Marcello Mezzatesta
I my 24 years of going to the cinema I can recall only one instance where I walked out before a film was finished. It was during Archangel, a low-budget effort by cult Canadian director Guy Maddin. I basically lost patience with the film and realising it wasn’t going to improve, I walked out – a strangely liberating experience, but one I have yet to repeat.
I came mighty close with Time Regained, however. I knew beforehand that the film was the best part of three hours long, and after an hour I was just about ready to give up the ghost, having no idea who the characters were, or what their relationship to each other was, or how they fitted into the story. The film is based on the final section of Marcel Proust’s vast A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, and I am convinced that, without having read the whole of that novel sequence, Time Regained is impossible to follow. Director Ruiz makes zero concessions – a brave decision, but one which means that his film will have almost zero appeal for non-Proust-readers, i.e. the vast majority of cinemagoers. So be warned.
But I stuck it out, gave up trying to make sense of the film, and instead tried to appreciate it as a series of individual scenes which I might or might not be able to puzzle out. From that point, I actually began to enjoy it a lot more, and by the time it was over I was quite glad I’d sat through the whole thing after all. Time Regained certainly passes one of my tests of a good film, in that it presents a distinctive and cinematic way of looking at its own universe. Ruiz’s most successful directorial flourish is to move props and people around within the frame independent of the camera – I presume they’re on wheels, worked by unseen ropes. This is especially striking during a scene in which Vincent Perez performs a piano recital and all the rows of people in his audience move in time with the music – there’s even a slight, almost imperceptible jolt when they come to rest as he finishes playing.
It also helps to pass the time that Ruiz has stars of the seductive calibre of Deneuve and Perez on display, not to mention John Malkovich as the decadent Baron de Charlus, adding yet another bizarre entry to his filmography. Malkovich is clearly speaking French during his scenes but is equally clearly also being dubbed – perhaps even by his own voice – except during his frequent giggly laughs. This produces a weird effect but Malkovich is as magnetic and slyly humorous as ever, especially during a sequence set in a male brothel. Marcello Mezzatesta is picture-perfect as Proust, who becomes the main character in his novel, and by the end Ruiz has succeeded in making a few interesting points about the longevity of works of art, and the role of the artist in society, and so on.
Time Regained is a bit like Topsy-Turvy, which I describe in my review as a ‘tiresome classic.’ It isn’t as much of a classic, and it’s certainly much more tiresome, but it is what it is, straight down the line, never wavering, and for that I suppose we should be sort of thankful.
by Neil Young
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