"Swann in Love," a classic that shows a lot of skin, is an icy study of sexual obsession based on Proust's "Remembrances of Things Past."
Britain's Jeremy Irons, speaking his careful French, is the lovesick Charles Swann, whose memoirs, some crude, show the progression of his disease. Ornella Muti, lush and dusky, costars as Odette de Crecy, a demimondaine who infects him with "l'amour maladie."
If she gives him fever, why isn't he on fire? Obsession ought to be a little sweaty.
Muti is ravishing, an irresistible tease, but Irons is miscast as a neurotic Parisian intellectual who realizes near death that he's wasted his life on an unworthy woman who wasn't even his type.
Irons is no stranger to obsessive love after "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and "Betrayal," both tales of sexual dyspepsia. It's just that he's more effective when he's aloof and the one who is wanted. His crisp white shirts have had as much to do with his sex appeal as his lean, good looks.
German director Volker Schlondorff, working from a scenario by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere, compressed the events of the novella "Swann in Love" into 24 hours, and added an epilogue from "Time Regained."
Time is a blur, a disorderly cascade of flesh and orchids, a carnal miasma set to a discordant sonata by Hans-Werner Henze. It's a translation of styles -- Proust's for Schlondorff's -- that's hard to follow.
Beautifully photographed by Sweden's Sven Nykist, the sets and the extras -- genuine French aristocrats -- look like figures on a music box.
Like those figures, "Swann in Love" goes nowhere. But it sure beats Cliffs notes. SWANN IN LOVE -- In French with subtitles at the Key.