Monday, July 23, 2007

La Captive (2000)

I'm entering year four of my In Search of Lost Time project, reading a volume of Proust's opus every summer until it's finished. I'm in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah right now, so this yearly tryst of mine won't be over until 2010.

The two most recent film adaptations are Raoul Ruiz's Time Regained (1999) and Chantal Akerman's La Captive (2000). Both adapt volumes I've yet to reach (the 7th and 5th, respectively), so their worlds are still somewhat new to me. This is especially true with Akerman, who, according to Jonathan Rosenbaum, takes a number of liberties with the text. I'll have to take his word for it, but it makes sense, since the suffocating, almost sterile atmosphere of Akerman's film is miles away from the endless textures and observations of Proust's work. What Akerman has isolated from the work is the moment when one realizes one cannot fully possess their lover. Their thoughts and motivations will always maintain an element of opacity - the two are always two, never one. The main filmic influence here is Hitchcock, and specifically Vertigo, from which Akerman lifts the opening sequences of pursuit, and the focus on the curl on the back of a statue's head. The theme of obsession and thwarted desire is established immediately, as Proust's Narrator, here known as Simon, surreptitiously follows Proust's Albertine (here Ariane) to a hotel. He's framed sneaking behind corners, creeping at the sides of the frame, while Ariane strides freely from left to right through the rigorous compostions. It's clear that Simon is the captive of the title, not Ariane, even though Ariane is the one cooped up in Simon's airless apartment.

Another influence is Eyes Wide Shut, another film about the sexual fear of the other, and another film where the city is the locus of desire, a dreamworld where our most secret desires can be enacted. Simon is deathly afraid that Ariane is a lesbian, and prowls the streets of Paris looking for her possible lovers. Simon, played by Stanislas Merhar, is a stoic esthete, deeply guarded and only giving away emotion during his coughing fits. He's almost a blank, which is a 180 degree turn from the endlessly reflective digressions of Proust's Narrator. His love, Ariane, is played by Sylvie Testud (who also stars in Akerman's superlative farce, Tomorrow We Move (2004). She is, unlike Simon, free. Evading his persistent questions with gentle lies and feigned confusion, she is not tied down by the obsessive need to dominate him, to strip mine his every thought. Her coyness is used to defend her independence of thought, something Simon fails to learn until the final shot that tracks over his damp head.

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Blogger The New-York Ghost said...

RES, are you an Eyes Wide Shut fan?

10:26 PM  
Blogger R. Emmet Sweeney said...

I am! I think it'll have the same fate as Barry Lyndon, dismissed upon release, revered 20 years later.

5:13 PM  

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