Friday, July 27, 2007

Swann In Love; Or, How I Nearly Wrote The Complete Works of Proust

Swann In Love, directed by Volker Schlondorff; starring Jeremy Irons and Ornela Muti

Fans of film, fans of sex, fans of floriculture, and fans of archaic French lingerie will all love the first poke scene in director Volker Schlondorff’s adaptation of Proust’s Swann In Love. “Mmmmmmm-mmmmm-mmm mrrrm-mmm-mrm....” Swann says, frankly and Frenchly. He’s speaking directly into some saucy wench’s extra-saucy pair of corsage-holders and the next thing you know, before she can either say “Mmmm-hmm” or “Nuh-uhnh,” he’s poking his finger right down her orchid. Ah, but that’s Proust for you -- what a guy!

(Now, nobody you actually know has ever read all through Proust — present company included. And nobody you actually know has ever read all the way through one whole part of Proust — same here. And nobody you actually know has ever all the way finished a whole little piece of Proust — me neither, so we’ll all feel free to lie about it as much as we want and act like we just barely missed writing it all ourselves once.)

Anyway, like I said: Proust (or Swann, his alter ego here) what a guy! Although, I’ve got to be perfectly straight with you -- once he’s poked her orchid once or twice, he’s just about worthless. You’re afraid he’ll faint, you’re afraid he’ll swoon, you’re afraid he’ll pass out and flop over and land with a big poof. Swann’s is, you could say, The Leisured Life lived leisurely, and he’s not used to working up much of a sweat. Couple of orchid pokes, that’s pretty much his limit.

(Of course, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Proust expert, exactly, but I can let you other scholars in on a well-known bonafide fact I’m pretty sure of, and that’s that Marcel Proust’s own personally perferred poking was on something other than orchids, metaphorical or otherwise. And of course, Proust’s work is considered largely and notoriously autobiographical. But you undoubtedly already knew that -- hey, sorry, pardonnez moi, you know?)

Would it be fair to say that Swann’s a dithering aesthete, an eraptured voluptuary, a moneyed and exquisite Parisian pederast who’s stepping up to the plate as a switch-hitter? Sure it’s fair — us Proust scholars are prone to speaking off the frilled cuff. His heart is all a-flutter over a woman this time, which is practically a whole new concept for him and — oops-a-daisy, somebody prop him up before he faints again.

Not only is this woman a woman, she’s also part black and mostly all whore. Swann has a tough enough time just figuring out the woman part of the proposition, so he barely even knows to trip over the rest of it. Doesn’t, however, stop his social peers from knowing what they think about it; the dirt is dished in front of Swann, behind his back, and wheresoever tongues may wag and mouths may flap. Worse, the servants are beginning to strike scornful postures. The situation is beyond intolerable!

Ok, so let’s face it. What you personally think about Swann In Love will depend on whether you can stand a good couple hours of Frenchified fop-ism — with subtitles — for the sake of either (A) art; (B) a story that gets better the longer you stick with it; or (C) the softcore action.

Matter of fact — and speaking of things remembered past — what Swann In Love is most reminiscent of is The Arthouse Film, circa late ‘50s to mid’60s. Verifiable Foreign Literature on film (and with cinematography by Bergman’s faithful Sven Nykvist, no less) and prurient interest all over the place. I wouldn’t bet cash money on it sticking around Phoenix, Arizona, for long but while it does you know it’s going to be the best place in town to pick up librarians with loins of fire, and for meeting bespectacled English Department grad students on the make. Listening to lobby conversations after the show ought to be worth the price of admission alone, wouldn’t you say, fellow popcorn-crunching Proust scholars?

The Arizona Republic

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