With the splendidly mounted Time Regained, Raúl Ruiz has taken on what would seem to be an impossible task: bringing the last volume of Marcel Proust's monumental Remembrance of Things Past to the big screen. Some have called the novel unfilmmable--all those labyrinthine sentences, weaving in and out of one another, like grapevines. But Ruiz hasn't filmed the novel exactly, he's translated it into film. And so those labyrinthine sentences become labyrinthine camera movements, and film itself becomes the madeleine--an aide-mémoire that suspends us somewhere outside time. Those who've gotten drunk off the fruit of Proust's grapevines may miss the intimacy of the novel, its endless tracking of Proust's thoughts. And those who've never uncorked the novel may be altogether lost without the Cliff Notes nearby. But the movie, which drifts from one conversation to another, works on its own terms as a kaleidoscopic evocation of the belle époque, those opulently sad years when the past collided with the present.
Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart and John Malkovich are the best-known names in a cast that makes the most of what it's been given to work with--snatches of dialogue at various soirées, with the occasional funeral thrown in for good measure. And wandering through it all, like some kind of human antenna, is Marcello Mazzarella's Marcel, who will eventually weave all these strands of memory into the novel that will represent his escape from the ever-changing world of self and society. Remembrance of Things Past was perhaps the first novel where what's normally between the lines is right there in the lines--consciousness as one long, exquisite digression. Ruiz couldn't have hoped to get even a fraction of those thoughts into Time Regained, so he's done the next-best thing: filmed the flow of thought, its perpetual glide. As the camera escorts us through the various compartments of Proust's memory, we're never quite sure where we are at any one point in time. Exactly, Proust would say.