These concerns aside, the chief problem with Time Regained isn't Ruiz's mistakes, but that he allows himself so few chances to make any. Despite (or perhaps because of) his love of the material, he's far too careful with it. While Proust took bold steps to invent a new language of the novel, Ruiz doesn't do anything nearly as inventive with his film. This story may be about gender-bending cultural radicals but it is told in conventional, almost reactionary terms. Even the various surrealistic elements Ruiz employs seem antique. Characters' aged faces suddenly transform into their younger selves. Rows of seated concertgoers begin to drift past one another, like tourist boats on the Seine. Seated at a table Proust begins to levitate, rising toward a movie screen above him. This mixture of lyricism and disorientation recalls the work of Jean Cocteau (who happened to be a friend of Proust) as well as Alain Resnais and Luchino Visconti. It's referential and reverential.
This style of “museum cinema,” the embalming of once-radical works, has a comforting effect on some people. It plays up the glossy furniture, the lush period music, and the dreamy speculations. It plays down Proust's rough-and-tumble sexuality and his rather disagreeable social habits, turning him into an amusing, bumbling voyeur. It's the Merchant-Ivory School of Great Art. It's stylish and sociable, like an afternoon tea party. But lacking Proust's fierce honesty and courage, Time Regained feels too cool, too careful, to lead us deeply into Proust's heart, mind, and soul. C'est un hommage et c'est dommage.