I saw the Argentinian director Maria Alvarez’s film “Le Temps Perdu,” about a Proust reading group of octogenarians in Buenos Aires, at Film Forum in New York. It was wonderful, although I napped a little. Things I noticed: how little you know about these people. How they are cordial but not all that close. There is an affection but also a formality, a distance. The cafe where they meet is totally ordinary. The whole film takes place there, punctuated by shots of the street outside. Changes in the weather and the group’s slow progress through the novel are the only indication of time passing. We see the waiter putting tables together before they arrive. They trickle in slowly, greeting each other. The camera focuses in close on their wrinkled faces. You imagine all they have been through, the history of Argentina over the past eighty years. Bits and pieces of their long lives are revealed. One man was in prison for five years. That gave him time to read. A woman talks about how when she became a reader her husband said she had lost interest in him. Poetry was more important to her. The marriage ended. People come in and out of the group. It seems possible to come in at any point. A woman waits shyly outside in a drizzling rain, peering into the window, until someone invites her in. “Roberto is always inviting people.” The waiter watching them…warily? bemusedly. The leader Roberto is on his fifth read. He says that repeatedly. Proudly. The audience laughs each time. The group was founded by his daughter Albertina when she was a student, with other literature majors. His wife named her Albertina. Nothing to do with Proust’s Albertine. “I knew nothing of Proust when my wife chose that name.” Albertina is now in Paris and he has kept the group going since 2001. It is now 2018. He brings printouts of excerpts each time. They read them aloud and discuss them. When the first woman starts reading, other people are talking. She waits, but there is still background noise. She goes on and reads. They have trouble hearing. Their eyesight is bad. One woman reads aloud to another and she keeps saying, “See, you read well!” She does. But she is not confident. They are old. One has recently had eye surgery and lost her sight, “like Borges.” Attention is intermittent. Life goes on. A woman misplaces her purse. At other moments, attention is rapt. They gasp at the beauty of the sentences. At how true the words are. “Que bello texto!” Roberto announces occasionally that he wants to make a “Commentario.” What he and the others say is not especially complex or erudite. They relate the book to their own lives. One woman talks about her dead husband’s smile. How she will never forget it. Another says she doesn’t buy Proust’s pessimistic theory of love. Another says, “It’s art!” A man notes that Albertine was based on Proust’s driver Alfred Agostinelli. A woman says that she has experienced every emotion that Proust describes, exactly as he describes it. The table is scattered with photographs. I recognize one of Proust as a child with his brother Robert. A woman arrives who has yet to read a single page of Proust. Roberto tells her it’s like a detective novel where the murderer is revealed at at the end of 3,000 pages. Actually you know already from the very beginning who did it. But you still want to read every page. She seems to take this literally at first. “Please tell me who did it! …Oh, it’s a metaphor?” At one point a woman suggests they try reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. The idea goes nowhere. They don’t want to read anything but Proust. I think the only music in the film is Debussy’s “Syrinxe.” It’s a solo flute composition that is often performed offstage. Based on the legend where Pan pursues the nymph Syrinxe. She flees from him and is transformed into reeds growing by the river. Pan unwittingly culls these same reeds and fashions a pipe out of them. The music he plays on the “pan pipe” is thus suffused with sadness that he never possessed her. Just like Marcel and Albertine. “Syrinxe” was composed around 1913, just as Swann’s Way was coming out. The group in the café make their way through the whole novel over the course of the film, from the first line, “Mucho tiempo…” to the last. In Roberto’s handouts, the final paragraph is followed by the first. “Mucho tiempo….” They start again.
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I love this, both your description and what you are describing.
Thanks Janine! I really loved the film!
Thanks for this! It’s so good the way you describe it I almost felt like I am seeing the film.
Thank you Reiko!
It’s actually quite shaseibun like!
It’s so funny you say that Reiko! I was thinking the same thing and almost wrote that to you. I wasn’t thinking of shaseibun as I wrote it. But it somehow came out that way. I wonder what makes it feel that way? Present tense? Short sentences? An “I” narrator who makes his presence known but also gets out of the way to report the facts?
I think it’s because you write as if you are actually on the scene, noting things with your senses (cognitively). I’ve recently reread Komori’s discussion of shaseibun in his old book, Dekigoto toshite no yomukoto (the chapter titled “Shaseibun to wa nanika”), and feel I’ve got a better grasp of what it is.
Ooh.. i need to read that piece! Thanks!
Thanks Sherrill! Let’s catch up soon.