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Swann in Love

Swann in Love(1984)

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In late 1890s Paris, the well-to-do and dashing Charles Swann (Jeremy Irons) enjoys the best parties and the best company. However, his roving eye fixes upon the beautiful "lady for rent" Odette de Crecy (Ornella Muti); rather than keeping their association a secret, Swann flaunts his engagements with this disreputable lady while those around him begin to tear him down. An attempt at salvation of sorts arrives from the similarly positioned, omnisexual Baron de Charlus (Alain Delon), who attempts to distract Swann by proffering a more respectable liaison with the Duchess de Guermantes (Fanny Ardant), who is neglected by her busy husband. However, Swann's heart refuses to veer from its course.

. Following a series of acclaimed German-language productions, director Volker Schlondorff tossed his hat into the prestigious realm of international art house productions with Swann in Love courtesy of Irons, his first English-speaking lead star. The film's warm reception led to Schlöndorff's extensive and wildly inconsistent work in America, including Death of a Salesman and The Handmaid's Tale. This particular film posed a unique challenge as it marked the first attempt to adapt the notoriously difficult Marcel Proust from the written page to the screen (in this case, a portion of Remembrance of Things Past, which also inspired the later La captive; thanks to a sensitive script penned by no less than four writers (including Peter Brook), Schlondorff beat the odds and delivered a sumptuous, heady film still capable of being appreciated by a mass audience.

Ingmar Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist conjures up some breathtaking imagery with an array of period furniture and costumes at his disposal; Muti in particular receives some close-ups that would make most starlets fume with envy. Best known at the time for the popular Brideshead Revisited, Irons turns in a sterling performance (albeit in French, obviously not his native tongue) that foreshadows his lovesick obsessives in such films as Damage and Dead Ringers. Though essentially unlikable to modern audiences, Swann's character - a lovesick art snob who can barely fend for himself - is a fascinating actor's showcase. As a fading pretty boy conducting affairs with men without provoking much of a fuss, Delon is ideally cast; his similarly rapacious sexual activities in the `70s and waning matinee idol status add layers of pop culture subtext to a character who could easily spin off for an entire film unto himself. Of the leads, Truffaut muse Ardant has the least to do and would only really prove herself in future projects as advancing years honed a fascinating edge to her classical features.

Home Vision offers a visually immaculate presentation of this tricky film, which has often looked blurred and murky on television screens in the past. The disc offers the original French track with English subtitles or the English-dubbed version, which played in a few less discriminating art theaters. Unfortunately, apart from some handy liner notes by Hans-Bernhard Moeller and George Lellis that focus on the film's status as literary adaptation, the package is bare bones and comes up short compared to other comparable Schlondorff titles on DVD like The Tin Drum, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, and Circle of Deceit. At a minimum, Schlondorff's participation would have offered some much-needed insight into the process of selectively adapting a landmark book and transforming its complex ideas into such remarkable visual equivalents.

For more information about Swann in Love, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order Swann in Love, go to TCM Shopping.

by Nathaniel Thompson