Review: A Swann’s Love (1984)


Director: Volker Schlöndorff | 110 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Jeremy Irons, Ornella Muti, Alain Delon, Fanny Ardant, Marie-Christine Barrault, Anne Bennent, Nathalie Juvet, Charlotte Kerr, Catherine Lachens, Philippine Pascal, Charlotte de Turckheim, Nicolas Baby, Jean-François Balmer, Jacques Boudet, Jean -Pierre Coffe

Marcel Proust is one of the best French writers of the early 20th century. When you read a story by Proust you are in a different world. The world of nobility, romance, fine clothing, chic parties and French high society. Making a representation of what the film ‘Un Amour de Swann’ would look like was therefore not that difficult. However, the film cannot match Proust’s book and is not able to convey the story so convincingly.

This may be partly due to the detachment that the entire film radiates. In no way are you involved in the feelings and thoughts of the main characters and not once are you affected by the film. For two hours you will watch an empty story read by actors in beautiful dresses and suits in the beautiful houses and palaces of the upper circles of France.

It’s fortunate that this empty story is a pretty good one in itself. The basis, laid by Marcel Proust, is good and with this director Volker Schlöndorff thinks he can win the audience over. Now Schlöndorff is not just the first best, after all he also directed the beautiful ‘Die Blechtrommel’, but with ‘Un Amour de Swann’ Schlöndorff has made it too easy for himself.

Charles Swann enters the high society of Paris at the end of the 19th century. He is not like his acquaintances from these circles, he is after all Jewish and had to fight for his place in the higher classes. He also has no title like Baron or Graaf, but despite that he is a welcome guest at the parties and receptions. He has an affair with Odette, a girl who not only comes from the lower social class but also earns her money as a courtesan. Charles’s friends warn him not to marry her. He doesn’t listen to them and still marries Odette. Because of this, he is suddenly no longer the popular man he was first in the higher circles.

Whether Charles really loves Odette is not entirely clear. And whether that love is mutual either. Charles and Odette do not show enough affection for each other and their faces do not reflect the emotions that you would normally see in a couple in love. There is no chemistry between Jermey Irons and Ornella Muti, who play the two main roles, so that as a viewer you miss that compassionate feeling that you should have with romantic stories.

The surroundings are beautiful. Paris, the city of love, the beautiful houses and palaces of the noble people and the beautiful costumes provide the beautiful moments in the film. Alain Delon as the gay Baron de Charlus provides the subplot, which actually does not attract attention any more than the main story. Not even Delon’s charming play can change that.

What should have been a beautiful romantic costume drama has ultimately become nothing more than a simple story about high society in Paris and how easily you can fall off your pedestal again in these circles. It is a pity that a beautiful story like that of ‘Un Amour de Swann’ is not conveyed beautifully on the silver screen. Schlöndorff could have gotten more out of this and the actors could have gotten more out of the talent that is undoubtedly in it.

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