Posted by martinteller on June 25, 2012
Based on the final volume of Marcel Proust’s unfinished, unpolished, “unfilmable” epic last work, In Search of Lost Time (yet another book this poorly read clod is unfamiliar with), it concerns the author (Marcello Mazzarella) reminiscing through an endless series of interconnected memories. Scenes morph into each other as Marcel prowls from event to event, usually lurking on the sidelines, silently absorbing. Ruiz makes time and space irrelevant, toying with location and chronology as if they were — as they are in memory — as tangible and permanent as mist. Marcel wanders with his childhood self, folds memories back upon themselves, sees one person transform into another, is triggered by a phrase or a sound or an object to go off on another tangent. A room is suddenly, magically, another room. People float through space, unable to be fixed in a certain spot. At a party, he keeps meeting the same friends and acquaintances, over and over again.
I can’t seem to stop this habit of comparing Ruiz to Resnais. But this certainly brings to mind any number of Resnais’s experiments with time and memory… Marienbad, Hiroshima, Je t’aime je t’aime, Muriel, Providence. They are kindred spirits for sure (often working with the same cinematographer, the great Sacha Vierny). It’s an exceptionally inventive play on structure, with stunning techniques that delight the imagination. Formally, it’s an astounding film, one with absolutely grand cinematography. It’s a movie that looks stunning in screenshots but really needs to be seen in motion to appreciate the intoxicating, expressive camera movement (and character movement, and set movement). I fell in love with it almost instantly, and for a time thought I might have a new entry for my top 100.
But it’s plagued by a lack of emotional resonance. Mysteries of Lisbon, to a degree, suffers from the same problem but makes up for it with a narrative thread — or rather, several threads – that are compelling. So much of the narrative content (if you can call it that) here is quite dry… many scenes of characters talking about other characters, in a way that suggests we should follow and care about the developments in their lives. Now I don’t mind if the “plot” is confusing, and I don’t think we’re actually meant to care all that much about who is doing what with whom. But then don’t spend so much time making me listen to it when nothing else is going on. In these moments where the camera isn’t revealing anything interesting and the structural experimentation is on hold, the film seems to grind to a halt while Malkovich prattles on (in French) about so-and-so or the war or something. If this is a film about memory, what makes these memories worth exploring, beyond the fact that they’re being recalled?
I don’t mean to say the film is dull, just that there are some dull portions. Not a lot of them, but enough to kill the buzz every now and then. Fortunately, these moments don’t last very long before Marcel’s memory whisks us along to another destination (or to revisit an earlier memory, with revamped context). And perhaps a second viewing — or a reading of the mammoth novel — would give these “dead spots” more weight. As a cinematic achievement, I’m still heartily impressed. Not as much as I was with Lisbon (which in some ways this film might be seen as a warmup to) but often enough to be thrilled with the experience. Rating: Very Good