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...
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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
In Volker Schlondorff's Swann in Love, Jeremy Irons is Charles Swann, a cultured aristocrat who is in love with Odette de Crécy (Ornella Muti), an alluring courtesan. Much to his undying frustration, however, Odette shares her pleasures with numerous men and women, keeping the passionate Charles at arms length while continuing to take advantage of his cultural and financial largesse. Written by Peter Brook, Jean-Claude Carriere and Marie-Helene Estienne, the film is an adaptation of the second part of Swann's Way, the first book of Marcel Proust's epic seven-volume masterpiece In Search of Lost Time.
Set in Paris in the 1880s, the film is a recollection by a now aged Swann of a single day in his life as he attends dinner parties and salons, mingles with the upper crust, and pursues his courtship of Odette. Though Madame Verdurin (Marie-Christine Barrault), a fixture at the gatherings, sees Swann as unworthy of Odette and has unkind words about him, he evokes sympathy from the Duchesse de Guermantes (Fanny Ardant) who appears to also have designs on him. Swann's love for Odette feels a bit obsessive when he compares her face to a Botticelli face in a painting in the Sistine Chapel, yet we may be able to recall in our own life how love can be all consuming to the point where the lover takes on attributes far beyond the reality of their true nature.
Swann in Love is a valiant attempt to translate a literary masterpiece into film and is strongly supported by the cinematography of Sven Nykvist, yet it fails to capture Proust's depth of characterization, artistic imagination, or poetic sensibility, opting instead for superficial posturing, long glances, and shallow voice-overs. The highly educated and artistically sophisticated Swann, in a lifeless performance by Irons, is depicted as little more than a humorless snob who is rejected by others of his social station because of his love for Odette, but who continues to pursue her out of obsession or sheer obstinacy. In the reality of Proust, however, his love for her is so deep that he can overlook almost any flaw in her makeup, her constant lying, her lack of appreciation of art, music, and poetry, and her broad tastes in sensual pleasure.
There are others ways that Schlondorff gets it wrong. Although Odette is in fact a courtesan with all that it implies, she is hardly the unintelligent tart depicted in Muti's characterization. Also, the homosexual affair of the Baron de Charlus (Alain Delon) does not become part of Proust's story until many volumes later and does not belong in the film. One would think that, at the very least, the director would utilize a late romantic work of Gabriel Fauré or Camille Saint-Saens as the model for the enchanting sonata by the fictional composer Vinteuil that brings Charles and Odette together, yet Schlondorff instead opts for the modern atonal music of Hans Werner Henze, a choice that feels totally incongruent with the place and time. With all due respect for Schlondorff's valiant attempt to translate Proust into film, Swann in Love is one effort that should have remained on the drawing board with a "someday" tag attached.
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