Time Regained (Ruiz, 1999)

What are dreams but memories sent through the twists of our brains? We relive our events through the emotion that seeps through the images that flash before our sleeping eyes. Sometimes they are potent enough to leave a residual fog when we wake.

It is in this space, where dreams become entangled with memories, that director Raoul Ruiz chose to place his film, Time Regained. With it he forfeits any real notion of storytelling, and instead drifts from moment to moment as frantically, and nostalgically as the dying mind of our main character, Marcel Proust, can move. What Proust, and we the viewer, witness is the unfolding fragments of his unfinished novel. In his final grasps at life, the novel takes on a stream of consciousness autobiographical tone, but nothing is ever definitive, scenes dreamily fall into one another, and characters float in and out of each others lives like slowly moving clouds.

Because of the fragmented, stream of consciousness nature of the film, there are moments where Proust momentarily fixates on characters (people) from his past. This adds a richness to each character, and scene that is never abandoned in the drifting style. When Proust’s memory wanders, the characters, and all of their flaws and triumphs travel with him. And it is apparent early on that through these people Proust measured and observed his life.

The object for Ruiz is to capture the fleetingness of life, and memory, and how closely related memory is to dreams. There is an effortless surrealism that paints our memories as they fade. Soon, we begin to wonder if it is the moment in time we remember, or just the memory itself, as it bends, fades, disappears, and reappears in shockingly vivid color.

Ruiz makes sure that every scene has a dreamy headed feel by always keeping his camera moving. It meanders like the minds eye through the pages of Proust’s faded memory. And in no scene is this style more powerful than the concert scene. It is the emotional zenith of the film as we watch Proust, overwhelmed with the creeping phantom that it his mortality, and his past. It is both the most humanly grounded scene, and possibly the most surreal, as the crowd surrounding Proust seems to sway, and rotate around him.

It is extremely rare for a film to be such a deep well of human experience and emotion, and find itself so detached from notions of reality, but Raoul Ruiz straddles the line brilliantly. The emotion is the surrealism.

– James Merolla