A master of visualizing the slippery, illusory nature of memory, Raúl Ruiz was the ideal director to tackle Marcel Proust’s opus In Search of Lost Time. Nominally adapting only Finding Tie Again, the seventh and last volume of the novel, Time Regained acts as a feverish recapitulation of the entire work, with scenes depicting the final years in the life of Marcel (Marcello Mazzarella) interspersed with various flashbacks to the narrator’s past as he lived through the massive upheaval of the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
Ruiz’s singular brand of modern classicism is on display from the start, as a scene of a bed-ridden Marcel dictating to his housekeeper, Céleste (Mathilde Seigner), sees the camera, in tandem with all the objects in the room, moving closer to the protagonist. Thus, a shot that begins with Marcel surrounded by a glut of empty space ends with Céleste’s desk and a table practically pressed against his bed. Other shots in the same scene use objects to completely isolate and restrict Marcel in the frame, emphasizing the helplessness of his frail state. When the film moves into flashback, it frequently casts its images in a glow that connotes the shimmering, impressionistic filter of selective memory—a haze that bathes the opulence of Marcel’s aristocratic surroundings in a fog that foreshadows its evaporation after World War I.
The film’s structure is in lockstep with the cinematography’s subjective approach, with timelines and perspectives blurring through fading and dissolving transitions or scenes wherein Marcel suddenly occupies the same space as characters who are a different age than they were in prior scenes. At times, Marcel even comes face to face with his own younger or older self as his memories overlap. As with Proust’s novel, these attempts to capture the slippery nature of perception and memory complicate what’s often a work of precisely detailed realism. Costumes and settings are richly detailed, but even in their splendor they act more as a bedrock of more recognizable period drama over which Ruiz, like a jazz saxophonist crashing a classical orchestra, improvises bold and unpredictable flourishes.
Throughout, Ruiz transmits the themes of Proust’s entire opus. Homosexuality is broached subtly in conversations between characters, and explicitly in the form of a baron (John Malkovich) who openly pursues soldiers and engages in BDSM with his paramours. WWI, which broke out after most of the novel had already been released, becomes a prism through which the protagonist’s entire life is refracted. This adds extra poignancy to Proust’s wistful sense of time’s passage, casting a long shadow over scenes of 19th-century European opulence, anticipating the conflict that would reduce it to rubble.
For a film so driven by its exacting visual splendor, Time Regained also conveys an acute sense of tragedy in the sight of friends growing old and drifting apart. The closest analogue to Ruiz’s approach can be found in the equally impressionistic work of Terence Davies, but the Chilean filmmaker is the Tolstoy to the Liverpudlian’s Dostoevsky, expanding outward from the intensely psychological for a panoramic view of a society in transition that is no less carefully observed of individual perspectives and dramas.
Sourced from a restoration by the Centre National de la Cinématographie, this Blu-ray captures Time Regained's intense beauty. The smoky, greenish hue that suffuses Raúl Ruiz's film glows with inviting warmth, while background detail is rich with vivid colors. Sudden oscillations in lighting intensity are handled without any washing out of textures. The disc comes with a lossless version of the original stereo as well as a 5.1 remix, and both highlight the intense care placed into using sound to capture the material's subjective perspectives. Small noises like the scratch of a pen on paper or distant bells can become deafening in the mix as they trigger new reminiscences.
Critic Bernard Génin contributes an interview in which he discusses In Search of Lost Time's circuitous route to the screen, from a Harold Pinter-penned screenplay for a Joseph Losey film that was never made to Ruiz's successful adaptation of the seventh volume. Génin offers copious information on this film and how it differs from other cinematic stabs at Marcel Proust's opus. Génin in particular praises the manner in which the director avoided mere plot adaptation to transpose the novel's crucial impressionistic perspective into cinematic terms. The disc also includes a theatrical trailer.
Raúl Ruiz's ambitious film looks and sounds resplendent on KimStim's Blu-ray, highlighting the intricate art direction, cinematography, and sound mixing that make the film one of boldest literary adaptations ever made.