A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Swann in Love (Volker Schlöndorff, 1984)

I certainly don't think that Proust's In Search of Lost Time couldn't, or shouldn't, be adapted to another medium: a well-produced miniseries might well do the trick. But for all the talent involved in this adaptation of the "Swann in Love" section of Swann's Way, the return on investment is slight: an opulent trifle, a pretty picture of the Belle Époque. The most significant contributions to the film are made by its production designer, Jacques Saulnier, and its cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, who keep the eye ravished even while the mind feels hunger pangs. There are some remarkable performances that make you feel that at least Proust has been read, including Fanny Ardant's Duchesse de Guermantes, Marie-Christine Barrault's wonderfully alive and vulgar Mme. Verdurin, and especially Alain Delon's Baron de Charlus. Yes, Proust's Charlus is fat where Delon is lean, but Delon's dissipated beauty -- he's like the picture of Dorian Gray when it had just begun to reflect its subject's debauchery -- and his sly appreciation of the Guermantes footmen give us something of the essential Charlus. I have a sense that Swann should be a good deal less handsome than Jeremy Irons and that Odette was not quite as sex-kittenish as Ornella Muti, but they move through their roles well even if their voices have been dubbed by French actors. (The dubbing is most noticeable in Irons's case, since his purring lisp has become so familiar over the years.) The screenplay, by Peter Brook, Jean-Claude Carrière, Marie-Hélène Estienne, and Schlöndorff, plucks scenes from here and there in the Search, not confined to the titular section, but fails to put it all together in a satisfying whole. If ever a case could be made for a voice-over narrator, reflecting Proust's own Narrator, I would think it would be here.

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