From the Recherche on film toward a Proustian cinema
in French literature on screen
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This essay reconsiders efforts to adapt the Recherche to the screen, exploring they contribute to a critical understanding of relations between prose fiction and film. Adaptation draws on memory and reading transposed from written word to the audiovisual medium of cinema. In conjunction with the possibility of a Proustian cinema that might draw on formal as well as narrative elements of the Recherche, I conclude with remarks on Chantal Akerman’s 2000 feature film, La Captive, inspired by the section of Proust’s novel known as La Prisonnière. Full disclosure, I state from the start that I consider efforts to film the Recherche less in terms of failure or success in conjunction with fidelity to the Proustian source text than as experiments or exercises worthy of exploration on their own. Critical accounts since 2000 by Martine Beugnet, Marion Schmid, and Pascal Ifri have renewed debate surrounding cinematic adaptations of the Recherche. For Ifri, a major challenge faced by filmmakers is how to contend with resistance among readers for whom the Recherche is an extreme demonstration of the degree to which representations of time are less malleable on the movie screen than on paper. This is the case, Ifri argues, less in conjunction with linear duration than with the singular complexity of the novel’s depiction of psychology, affect, and emotion. Adapting the Recherche to film is also complicated by the novel’s length, the absence of a traditional plot, its verbal style, and descriptions of painting and music, some of which Ifri describes as un-cinematic. Because Proust’s novel explores what lies behind visible reality and because that reality is reputedly the only one cinema can show, adapting the Recherche to the screen is extremely problematic.

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