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Elegant and educated bachelor, Charles Swann, moves in the most powerful and fashionable circles of Paris in the 1890's. When he falls in love with Odette de Crecy, a courtesan, his friends warn him against marriage. Proving himself a silly and socially-foul goose, Swann ducks his social responsibilities, Odette ensnares him, and he is gently but firmly cast out of society amidst everyone's great politeness. Written by
Modern chamber music colors a classical sensibility
Terrific costuming and production design, most noteworthy is the luminous camera-work of Sven Nykvist (Bergman/Allen/Tarkovsky and others). The film is paced as languidly as narrative film making will permit, allowing a certain quality of the author's voice to be felt beneath the demands of "storytelling", one of the chief obstacles in adapting this material.
I think that a masterstroke in this film is the music. While it may seem inconsequential, it draws the film into a more complex direction than typical period music would have done. I believe that this allows the film to reinvent the quality of emotional space in the material.
Contemporary composers of modern chamber music like Hans Werner Henze (who'd collaborated with Schlondorff before) were brought into the making of the film. The music succeeds by injecting an atonal, dissonant, aching, atmosphere into the story. The piano and violin pieces work well against typical form and aid the narrative in a superbly contemplative manner. I was reminded somewhat of "L'Année dernière à Marienbad", simply because the musical "cues" were not spelled out in simple terms.
Avoiding kitsch is part of the problem when adapting an author who discusses subjects (in epic detail) which have been filmed a thousand times before - in my opinion, the music permits yet another interpretation of that subject. At first its quietly unusual, becoming a defined, twisting voice, accenting the growing dissonance Swann experiences with Odette and ultimately with society.
It is a beautiful film. My only concerns were the occasionally odd voice-over work, which was a little distracting. Ornella Muti is a knockout, but her beauty seems oddly contemporary - its as if the filmmakers were trying to make the statement that voluptuousness is eternal, while beauty standards shift periodically and culturally. Irons is excellent as Swann. I would highly recommend the film.
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