(1984) Staring Jeremy Irons and Ornella Muti
This French film, by German director Volker Schondorff, is based on sections of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I am in the midst of reading this piece of work, having so far completed Swann’s Way, and currently being in the middle of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. As a reward for finishing the first book (and also as part of the OT challenge) I watched this movie – Swann in Love in English.
It was really quite lovely. It charts the rise and fall and of emotions that poor Charles Swann endures over the course of a day. He is in love with Odette, a flighty fashionable courtesan quite below his class, and outside his social circle. His friends can’t believe that this highly educated man would stoop so low as to consider marrying her, but he is caught in a terrible net of passion and jealousy that he is incapable of getting out of. As IMDb so neatly puts it, ‘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.‘
Lovely, right? Well, perhaps not. Visually sumptuous, the film captured the look of fashionable 1890s Paris, and was quite spot-on with casting. Jeremy Irons as Swann was brilliant. He had just the right amount of pent up agony edging his every movement, and his perfectly groomed mustache quivered with the exact passion that I had imagined. Ornella Muti was a perfect Odette – beautiful, but in a way that caught at the eye, almost off, yet tantalizing, with that little gap between her front teeth…
What I liked best about the film was how it captured the feel of that part of the book, specifically the excruciating frustration I felt for Swann, sick as he was with love, wanting to be free of Odette and yet utterly unable to free himself. I had all the incredible detail of Proust’s words in the back of my mind, so scenes like the one toward the beginning, where Swann attends a recital and hears a piece of music that reminds him of Odette, meant so much more to me. As Jeremy Irons stood clutching the back of a chair, jaw clenched, eyes bulging with dispair while the music stabbed him through the heart, I knew that Charles Swann was realizing that Odette didn’t love him anymore.
It would be an entirely different experience to watch this movie without having read the book. I can’t imagine it really – I would think it would be rather slow. As it is, I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction between the film and my impressions from the book.
I have to give Volker Schlondorff some kudos, therefore, for providing me with this interesting experience. I’m curious about some of his other work, such as The Tin Drum, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1979. While he frequently adapts literary works, I don’t imagine that I can expect the same lovely dance between the two crafts – film and book – as I did with Swann in Love. That was a pretty unique thing. Never say never though!
Especially when it comes to Odette and Swann – I remember writing in my notes, “He’ll never really marry her, he couldn’t!” Proved wrong by Proust and the unfathomable workings of the heart.