Marcel goes to the movies

Swann in Love

Swann in Love As part of my homework for Swann's Way, I rented this wonderful film from Netflix. It's also available from Amazon in DVD format and as a used VHS tape. The plot of course is the conflicted love affair between Swann (a comparatively youthful Jeremy Irons) and Odette (the breathtaking Ornella Muti, who achieves an impossible medley of innocence and sluttishness). On film, Swann comes across as a bit nuttier than his novelistic self, whereas Odette is actually more believable. (I'm not surprised by this. From the start, I've felt that Proust's women—the sex objects, anyhow—aren't very real. The same is true about most of the love affairs he describes. I've found it useful to assume that the liaisons are actually homosexual ones, and that the women are actually men. This is less true, perhaps, of Odette than it is of Little Marcel's obsessions, Gilberte Swann and later Albertine Simonet, both of whose names can so easily be transformed to masculine forms.)

The film has nice cameo appearances by the awful Verdurin couple, by members of their "little clan," by the Baron de Charlus, and even (after a leap forward in time) by a youthful Gilberte, the souvenir d'amour of Swann's ill-fated affair. However, I didn't see Little Marcel anywhere there in the Jardin des Champs Élysées.

The movie is a wonderful way to cleanse the palette after reading Swann's Way. Probably best not seen in advance, however; it's hard enough to follow even when you know the cast of characters and their ultimate fates.

La Captive

La Captive I rented this film from Netflix; you can also buy it from Amazon. The story takes place at two removes from Proust's: the prisoner and her captor have been renamed Ariane and Simon; and the era has been moved forward a century, so that Proust's quiet streets are clamorous with automobiles. Alas, the time shift makes the story seem even more improbable: why is Ariane so dependent upon her keeper, and why does every young woman seem to have homosexual leanings? (This was easier to accept in a novel about the early 1900s, when upper-class girls were strictly chaperoned and had scant opportunity to act out their attraction to boys.) However, much else of Proust carries over to the movie: the lad has asthma, a doting grandmother, and a maid named Francoise, and they all live together in a rambling, upscale apartment building near the Champs-Elysees. (The apartment even has adjoining bathtubs, as shown on the DVD package. These were adapted from Marcel's captivity of Albertine; the two bathrooms are adjoining, and the walls are so thin that they can chat while bathing. The frosted glass, however, was on the exterior windows.)

Like Young Marcel, like Charles Swann, and like Robert de Saint-Loup, Simon is obsessively jealous. He follows Ariane about, tries to catch her in lies (at one point begging her to admit to just two more lies, in order that he might trust her henceforth!), and in general does a splendid job of driving her into just the sort of behavior that he fears. The result is more tiresome than enchanting, though relieved at one point by a pretty duet between Ariane and another young woman. Suitably enough, it's from Cosi fan Tutte ("All Women Are Like That"). In the end, Ariane drowns, though it's unclear whether it was an accident or suicide.

Time Regained

Time Regained I rented this film from Netflix; you can also buy it from Amazon. It's a wonderful film, a tribute by the Chilean-born direct Raoul Ruiz, in French with subtitles that occasionally are hard to read against the gold-white light of Marcel's retrospections. The most astonishing performance is John Malkovich's as Charlus, despite the fact that he doesn't resemble him in the slightest (Proust described the baron as so fat that he waddled, and his head as enormous).

The film is based on the novel's final book, which we now know as Finding Time Again, and begins with Marcel on his deathbed, dictating in a ghostly voice the novel that will be his triumph over death. The dying writer never reappears; what we get instead are scenes from his book, including Little Marcel with his magic lantern at Combray, Young Marcel meeting Charlus at Balbec, and Middle-Aged Marcel attending the final society concert chez Prince de Guermantes, It's very difficult to follow, and should by no means be regarded as hors d'oeuvres to the feast of In Search of Lost Time, but rather as a digestif to follow it.