Volker Schlondorff's Cinema: Adaptation, Politics, and the "Movie-Appropriate"

By Hans-Bernhard Moeller; George Lellis | Go to book overview

18
Swann in Love

For his next assignment, Schlöndorff signed onto a project that had previously daunted such film artists as Luchino Visconti and Joseph Losey—an adaptation from Marcel Proust's multivolume novel Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu). The German filmmaker's Swann in Love (Un amour de Swann), shot in France in the summer of 1983, takes a single volume from Proust and spins it out into a feature-length film that only alludes to the larger work as a whole. As narrative, Swann in Love is a wisp of a story. It is about Charles Swann (Jeremy Irons), an upper-middle-class dandy who has social access to the late-nineteenth-century French aristocracy but who sacrifices his social standing by becoming obsessively infatuated with a capricious demimonde, Odette de Crécy (Ornella Muti). Schlöndorff's film describes how Swann pursues the only intermittently responsive Odette, only to see desire evaporate as soon as its realization becomes possible. The movie ends with Swann as an old man, reflecting on a life that he has all but thrown away on an evanescent flirtation.

Critical reception of Swann in Love was not particularly warm. Both popular reviewers and literary scholars found the film a rather flat adaptation of only a portion of Marcel Proust's sprawling Remembrance of Things Past, and few film critics have argued that the film successfully stands alone as a work of film art. Audience reception was comparable. Although the film broke opening week house records in its New York premiere at the Paris theater in fall of 1984, its box office grosses declined precipitously in subsequent weeks, indicating mediocre word of mouth (Coursodon 22–23).

Subsequent scholarship has been no more positive. Perhaps the most stinging academic attack on the film has been by Phil Powrie, who argues skillfully that the film is a mere transformation of a work of literature into a commercial property, designed to turn Proust into a cultural commodity for international bourgeois audiences. Schlöndorff's involvement in the project was to be merely

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