- Proust's souvenir visuel and Ruiz's clin d'œil in Le Temps retrouvé
L'ouvrage de l'écrivain n'est qu'une espèce d'instrument optique qu'il offre au lecteur afin de lui permettre de discerner ce que, sans ce livre, il n'eût peut-être pas vu en soi-même. [...] De plus, le livre peut être trop savant, trop obscur pour le lecteur naïf, et ne lui présenter ainsi qu'un verre trouble avec lequel il ne pourra pas lire. Mais d'autres particularités (comme l'inversion) peuvent faire que le lecteur a besoin de lire d'une certaine façon pour bien lire; l'auteur n'a pas à s'en offenser, mais au contraire à laisser la plus grande liberté au lecteur en lui disant: "Regardez vous-même si vous voyez mieux avec ce verre-ci, avec celui-là, avec cet autre."Marcel Proust, Le Temps retrouvé1
The body of criticism on Marcel Proust's seven-volume novel À la recherche du temps perdu is exceptionally vast, yet few critics consider cinematic adaptations of the novel. The very idea of filming this highly-revered, now canonical text often meets with objections that cinematic popularization will degrade Proust's prose. It is therefore not surprising that the Recherche escaped cinematic adaptation for over seventy years, having intimidated many filmmakers and especially Proust's compatriots (none of the adaptations is filmed by a French-born director). There were many attempts to bring Proust to the silver screen, but all were aborted. Finally, three directors of different nationalities (German, Chilean, and Belgian) and distinct styles (realist, baroque, and minimalist) undertook the risk of adapting Proust: Un amour de Swann (Volker Schlöndorff, France/West Germany, 1984), Le Temps retrouvé (Raúl Ruiz, France/Italy, 1999), and La Captive (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France, 2000). However, upon the release of the adaptations many literary critics and film reviewers declared Proust unfilmable.2 Their objections to filming Proust centered on the sheer volume of the novel (over 3,000 pages), its meditative narration deeply invested in the narrator's subjectivity, and Proust's famous style built on métaphores filées.
Claiming that Proust's view on cinema was unfavorable, critics forget that despite few comments in the text of the Recherche that directly address the question of simplistic cinematic vision, the narrator himself was not opposed to alternative modes of reading, as the passage from Le Temps retrouvé clearly attests. On the contrary, cinematic adaptations of Proust carry out the narrator's legacy as they translate the novel into a different medium, thus providing its readers and [End Page 151] viewers with another 'entry-way' into the narrative. On the one hand, cinematic adaptations of Proust perpetuate the narrator's interest in interiority as they pre-sent their viewers with studies of their protagonists' subjectivity: Swann (Un amour de Swann), Simon (La Captive) and the narrator (Le Temps retrouvé). On the other hand, cinematic production and especially its subsequent reception visualize how a battle of subjectivities breaks out, a battle in which reinterpretations of the text (by the director, actors or editors) come in contact with readers' and viewers' interpretations. Confronted with numerous representations of Proust's novel, we are compelled to assess which representation, if any, is closer to our own understanding of the text. This contact is often explosive, as we struggle to 'make room' for other interpretations of the text (especially in the case of the viewer who is also a reader of Proust). In La Prisonnière, the narrator observes that "on trouve innocent de désirer et atroce que l'autre désire" (3:170). It might be said that especially in the case of cinematic adaptations, one finds it natural to interpret and unacceptable that the other interpret. While assuring the novel's afterlife, its survival in cultural circulation, cinematic adaptations have to fight for their right to participate in this circulation.
The best received of the three extant adaptations of the novel, Raúl Ruiz's version of the Recherche's last volume, is a cinematic vision of the original that surpasses a simplistic exercise...