Cast & Crew
A 19th century Parisian aristocrat falls in love with a lower-class woman.
Louis Derohan Chabot
Charlotte De Turckheim
Hans Werner Henze
Dominique Le Rigoleur
Yvonne Sassinot De Nesle
Marie-christine Avez Terlutte
Swann in Love
In 1984, however, a French film based on part of the overall work made it to cinemas as Swann in Love. It's adapted primarily from a self-contained story entitled Un Amour de Swann, which Proust included within the first volume of his novel (Swann's Way). That story concerns the bourgeois late 19th century Parisian protagonist, Charles Swann, falling for a prostitute, Odette, despite her indifference to him, which drives him to greater obsession and a loss of standing in society.
The film concentrates the tale to a single day in Swann's life, with Proust's themes of time and memory conjured by having the story told in flashbacks, with Swann seen as an old man recalling his experiences. That structure was the brainchild of Peter Brook, the renowned British theater and film director who was originally slated to direct Swann in Love. At a dinner one evening with his co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and the German director Volker Schlondorff, who had recently made his reputation with film adaptations of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) and the Oscar-winning The Tin Drum (1979), Brook mentioned that his schedule would not allow him to direct this picture and that his producer was scrambling to find a replacement. Schlondorff later recalled: "A terrific excitement gripped me... 'I am available,' I said half-jokingly without thinking it over."
Schlondorff had long loved Proust's work. "I was 16 or 17 when I first read Un Amour de Swann over a weekend," he recalled, "under the apple trees in the park of the Jesuit boarding school. In those days I had only one wish, like Charles Swann: to assimilate myself in France. Proust's tale opened up three new worlds for me: the French language and the society to which it belonged, the unfamiliar terrain of love, and jealousy."
When Schlondorff got the job, he set about casting the leads with surprising actors whom he nonetheless saw as sharing key qualities with their characters. The British star, Jeremy Irons, was an unexpected choice to play Swann, for instance, but Schlondorff believed he would bring a sense of outsider status that was appropriate for a character who, as a Jew in an anti-Semitic society, was also an outsider.
For Odette, Schlondorff resisted calls to cast Catherine Deneuve. He thought she was too established in audience's eyes as a grande dame and would be hard to accept as a "youthful courtesan who has yet to climb the social ladder...from a world so very different from Swann's." Instead, he went with Italian actress Ornella Muti. The director explained, "Ornella thought that an art film--like this adaptation of Proust--was beyond her reach, and that's precisely why I liked her." (Catherine Deneuve would eventually play Odette in another Proust adaptation, the 1999 French film Marcel Proust's Time Regained, directed by Raoul Ruiz.)
For the role of Baron de Charlus, whom Schlondorff described as "this portly, vicious and perverse baron from one of France's oldest families" (the character actually appears much later in Proust's novel), the director cast Michael Lonsdale, a fine actor of dual French and British background. But the distributor Gaumont insisted that the cast must have at least one full-fledged French star in a major role, and they insisted that Schlondorff recast the role with Alain Delon.
The movie placed these actors in sumptuous costumes and lavish sets, all beautifully filmed by renowned cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, but the very nature of the project perhaps inevitably resulted in a mixed reception. Many felt the result was unsatisfying for Proust. "The physical production is all that money and the photography by Sven Nykvist can attain," wrote The New York Times' Vincent Canby. "If you haven't read Remembrance of Things Past, it doesn't make a great deal of sense, but, if you have, it doesn't make enough."
Others reacted differently. Roger Ebert wrote: "Imagine...that this is not a film based on a novel, but a new film from an original screenplay. It will immediately seem more lively and accessible. Because not one person in a hundred who sees the film will have read Proust, this is a sensible approach; it does away with the nagging feeling that one should really curl up with those volumes before going to the theater."
And the Polish film historian Jerzy Plazewski later took an even more positive view: "Many critics and audiences (especially in France, where Proust is especially revered) took umbrage at even the attempt to adapt this great literary work... Schlondorff proved here that the legend of 'inadaptability for film' of certain literary texts is only a matter of talent and ideas."
Critics have also remarked upon the film's affecting use of music, composed by Hans Werner Henze, to instill a mournful, passionate quality that conjures Swann's interior state. As the German historian Wilfried Wiegand wrote, "One misunderstands this film if one does not also comprehend it as a musical work."
By Jeremy Arnold
Hans-Bernard Moeller and George Lellis, Volker Schlondorff's Cinema
Jerzy Plazewski, "Volker Schlondorff" chapter in Volker Schlondorff, a book edited by Marek Zydowicz, Agnieszka Swoinska, and Marek Zebrowski
Swann in Love
Swann in Love on DVD
. 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
Swann in Love on DVD
Released in United States December 1984
Released in United States Winter December 1, 1984
Completed shooting 1983.
Released in United States December 1984 (Los Angeles)
Released in United States Winter December 1, 1984