Devotees of Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922) will savor the complexity and the nuances of this bold screen adaptation of the final volume of the French writer's classic In Search of Lost Time (a.k.a. Remembrance of Things Past). The year is 1922 and Proust (Marcello Mazzarella) is on his deathbed looking through a stack of photographs. Soon real characters from his past merge with the fictional ones he's created, and we are adrift on a sea of memories. For Proust, this was a sacred experience. He feasted on the past and received nourishment from it.
Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz directs this French film with a deep respect for Proust's creativity, imagination, and the mosaic of his memory. This is a very fluid drama with scenes that move smoothly into our consciousness. In one of the most audacious and lengthy sequences, the spectators at a musical recital glide in response to the sounds filling the air.
The best way to experience Time Regained is to let each vignette become an oar for rowing across the sea of Proust's memories. Relax, don't give in to impatience with all the time expended on small details. Remember Emily Dickinson's advice: "Such good things can happen to people who learn to remember."
Although Marcel recalls magic moments as a boy in a small village and a summer vacation at a seaside resort, the majority of his memories are set in upper-class French salons where well-dressed and jaded men and women talk, dance, eat, and drink. Among these characters are the fashionable Odette (Catherine Deneuve); her stepdaughter Gilberte (Emmanuelle Beart), who is unhappily married to Saint-Loup (Pascal Gregory), a hedonist with a mistress and a crush on Morel (Vincent Perez), a pianist; Madame Verdurin (Marie-France Pisier), a socialite with a high-pitched laugh; and Baron de Charlus (John Malkovich), a sado-masochist who loves young men.
Not everyone will find this journey through French high society appealing. But Proust certainly did. For him it was the Holy Land with its own shrines, saints, and ruins. Raul Ruiz's film beckons us to join him there. Later, we can return home and begin to harvest our own memories.