Volker Schlondorff’s film is not sacrilege – merely a disappointment. One did not really expect a miracle, but the makers of the adaptation seemed to have their sights held at a reasonable level – only Swann in Love, the second part of the first volume of Marcel Proust’s monumental book. Schlondorff fails because he has no substantial style of his own. His fastidious application makes for a film of attractive surfaces and little depth or feeling. In other words, it’s fairly dull.
In Swann in Love, Proust created a sort of blueprint for the rest of his Remembrances of Things Past with the story of a Parisian dandy, Charles Swann, who falls in love with and pursues a social-climbing demi-mondaine, Odette de Crecy. His passion becomes so obsessive and his jealousy so overpowering that he gradually cuts himself off from the brillliant high society circles – the time is the mid-1880s – that he has succeeded in penetrating, despite his Jewish origins.
Scripters do a cut and paste job on the text, lifting, transposing and dovetailing episodes and dialog from all over the novel and concentrating them into a single 24-hour period.
The performances might have salvaged the film, but Jeremy Irons is not up to the difficult central role. One tires of his foppish single-mindedness and tends to side with poor Odette, lusciously but vaguely incarnated by Ornella Muti. (Both are dubbed into French.)
Alain Delon, is both marvelously comic and touching as Charlus, the middle-aged homosexual aristocrat, whose own vain amorous pursuit of a young man is a parallel to Swann’s actions.