September 10, 1984 12:00 PM

Proust scholars may carp. Those who’ve spent the better part of a lifetime plowing through the Master’s seven-part Remembrance of Things Past may fault director Volker (The Tin Drum) Schlöndorff’s version of a fragment of the novel. But Swann in Love’s clumsier literary contrivances are forgivable because it is so richly detailed, splendidly acted and ravishingly photographed. (Could fin de siècle Paris ever have been as lovely as Sven Nykvist’s camera sees it now?) Jeremy (Brideshead Revisited) Irons plays Swann, a French Jew who has managed to infiltrate high society without overcoming the feeling that he’s an outsider. When he inexplicably falls for Ornella (Flash Gordon) Muti, a former prostitute his friends can’t abide, his world begins to crumble. The film follows a 24-hour period in Swann’s life, with an epilogue showing how he eventually comes to ruin. One scene in which Irons and his coachmen pursue Muti through the night to the Paris Opéra (the coachmen’s contempt for their master is barely contained) captures Proust’s world. At other times Schlöndorff and co-screenwriter Peter Brook are less successful, approaching the material with hats in hand. At these moments the camera merely stares, while the characters recite awkward lines and the rest of us admire the furniture. Muti can’t begin to plumb the depths of the woman who is Swann’s poisonous passion, but Fanny Ardant and Marie-Christine Barrault are first-rate as society queenpins. French matinee idol Alain Delon, nearly disfigured by makeup, brilliantly creates the tortured homosexual Baron de Charlus, and though Irons’ British-accented French won’t please purists, not since Olivier’s Heathcliff days has an actor matched piercing intelligence with such imposing good looks and physical grace. While Stallone flexes and Gere grunts, Irons may single-handedly bring back the romantic leading man. (In French, with English subtitles) (R)

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