Time Regained


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Time Regained
"As a comedy of manners, it is exquisite."

Those who have read Marcel Proust's great work say their lives were changed. Those who haven't are daunted by the prospect of a 14-volume slog. Raoul Ruiz's elegant and imaginative film is also extremely long. You require repeated visits to unravel the knotty question of who fits in where and how so-and-so relates to whatshisface. Take no notice of the 18-certificate. There isn't anything here to make a scullery maid blush.

It appears that Marcel (Marcello Mazzerella) is dying in his room, surrounded by faded photographs and plaster figurines. He remembers incidents in his life, while desperately writing A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu before the breath literally leaves him. Fact and fiction meld in his mind. Time is shuffled, characters touch as they pass, society remains locked in the warp of a tradition that atrophies from lack of movement.

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During the Great War, aristocrats in Paris behave as expected, with a facile disregard for matters of consequence, unless they concern money or scandal. Marcel is described as "a social butterfly." He knows everyone, flitting from room to room, watching, listening. emaculate in white tie and tails. He absorbs passion, without expressing it, a voyeur rather than a voyager.

Excluding the war, which takes place off screen, and the author's imminent demise, which lingers behind closed doors, nothing much happens. The closest Ruiz comes to active participation is when Baron de Charlus (John Malkovich) is whipped by a member of the criminal classes in a homosexual brothel.

As a comedy of manners, it is exquisite. The seamless etiquette of social behaviour has been beautifully recreated. Ruiz plays with perspective, magic realism and memory, encompassing the precise detail of upper class life before the vulgar hordes invade. While tripping neatly across parquet floors, Marcel observes the boredom, arrogance and emotional inadequacies of people who dress human weakness in uniform and expect duty to mop up the mess. As a writer, he does not judge. As a man, he hides behind a facade. When accused of looking lost in a ballroom, he replies, with the arch of an eyebrow, "Lost is of minor importance. The problem is finding oneself."

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A dying Marcel Proust, looks back at his life.
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