“Time Regained”/”Le Temps Retrouve” 1999, directed by Raul Ruiz
Review by Cynthia Webb
I am still drifting and dreaming inside the corridors of the mind, the chambers of memory of Marcel Proust, after seeing the exquisite film of his “Le Temps Retrouve”/”Time Regained”. This piece of pure cinematic bliss was made in 1999 and directed by one of the great ones, Raul Ruiz.
Today I took the train from Gold Coast to Brisbane (1 hour 20 minutes) to see it at the Cinematheque at the Gallery of Modern Art. I did so because the opportunity to see this film has never come up for me before and because I knew from viewing other work of Raul Ruiz, that the journey would be worth the trouble. There is one more screening on Saturday 24th August (2019).
Ruiz demonstrates that he is a true maestro of cinema’s possibilities, through the genius and beauty with which he has brought Proust’s great work to the screen. So many films are just like “visual books” and do not use the full potential and possibilities of film making. Here is truly cinematic expression of a novel. It is not like the usual films we see, not even like the great films we have on our jealously guarded list of special favorites. This film will certainly be added to mine, and near the top of the list too! It’s almost unique, and the only other filmmakers whose work comes to mind after experiencing it, are Andrei Tarkovsky and Theo Angelopoulos.
How is it different?
Marcel Proust is confined to bed, knowing he’s in his last days, and he is lost in his past, as he looks through his papers and photos, and memories come bursting into his mind of those certain moments from his lifetime, that we all carry like vignettes…. scenes from the movie of our life, that have never faded, but which we still can feel, smell, hear, and locate in the place where they happened. Sometimes they come to us when we are dreaming, sometimes when we are awake. Those indelible memories stored in the part of our memory where they are destined never to fade.
One is called upon to identify with this dying man, and the call is more difficult to ignore, the older one is.
So as Marcel recalls his life, his family, friends, loves, acquaintances, the people in his social circle, the tragic time of the First World War, we, the blessed audience are taken back there with him….. into the streets of Paris, into the Salons of the upper classes, the rich, the famous, the aristocratic, even into a dark and murky S & M ‘house’ for the very best people only. Our “time travel” is not chronological, and we see Marcel, and various other people as they were in their youth and middle age, and even their last days, but not necessarily in that order. We experience the memories as certain stimuli cause them to suddenly come alive in Marcel’s mind, sometimes from a sound, sometimes because they are linked to another memory – just in the random way that we are all familiar with. It is all brilliantly constructed and not difficult to follow if one is paying the attention that this work of art deserves.
One scene in the home of one of Marcel’s relatives where a musical concert is being presented (a violinist and a pianist), is beyond complete description, such is the atmosphere created. Ruiz and his brilliant cameraman, Ricardo Aronovich, have devised a way to move the camera and also move certain groups of the people sitting, listening entranced, in a crowded room, so that we are floating with them in a sort of divine sorcery.
From Proust’s writing we know that he was an acute observer of his times and we see him as such, in this scene of the film too. He is well connected, and respected in the highest circles of Parisian society. He weaves his way around the gathering, during the interval in the musical programme, when everyone gathers around an enormous table adorned with delicious sweet patisseries to complement the sweetness of the music. Marcel has total mastery over smiling, observing and listening – being the one to whom people will tell what’s on their mind. He is a master of discretion, and doesn’t say much at all, just looks empathetic and keeps on moving about once the person has shared their gossip, leaving each one feeling understood.
There’s a lovely scene of Marcel and his wife, Albertine, played by Chiara Mastroianni. To see Chiara is to see her real life father, Marcello Mastroianni, alive again, in her lovely face.
The nice thing is that Chiara’s real life mother Catherine Deneuve also has the plum role of Odette, a legendary beauty of the Belle Epoque era, in this film. (We have recently also seen Chiara in the 2018 film “Claire Darling”.)
Starring as the adult Marcel, Marcello Mazzorlla perfectly allows us inside his head, to spy on his memories.
Also starring here are John Malkovich, as Baron Charlus, Marie-France Pisier, Emmanuelle Beart as the daughter of Odette, Vincent Perez, plays Morel the musician.
The Belle Epoque (which ended with World War One) is recreated in a sublime manner through the set decoration and costumes, and a screenplay adapted from Marcel Proust’s novel, as well as the performances of the many actors (all just perfect).
“Time Regained” runs for 163 minutes and comes to us in three parts, those being before the war, during the war, and after the war. It’s an era, a lifetime, that expressed a long established condition in French history, class structure and way of life, that was violently swept away by the war. We are witnessing the momentous end of an era that had been refined to a high degree of sophistication, manners, class consciousness and sheer beauty. It’s difficult to understand just how different everything was afterwards.
Raul Ruiz was born in Chile, and began his career there, but left the country to live in Paris in 1973 after the government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a USA supported coup, and replaced by General Pinochet.
In Paris, Ruiz was prolific and completed a total of 100 films during his forty years of filmmaking. He died in 2011, and sadly isn’t so well known in his native country, Chile. However, his talents were much appreciated by the Europeans.
“Le Temps Retrouve”/”Time Regained” is for me an unforgettable experience and a sublime work from a maestro of cinema.
Copyright, Cynthia Webb, August 1999
Poster image, courtesy of the producers.