Title: Bad Timing
Language: English, German, Czech, French
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Writer: Yale Udoff
Music: Richard Hartley
Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond
Nicolas Roeg’s little-circulated relationship dissertation between an American psychiatrist Alex Linden (Garfunkel) and a young American woman Milena (Russell) in Cold War Vienna has an uncanny and scandalizing paralleled real life happening befalls on its leading actor Art Garfunkel.
After its glittering opening sequences of a Gustav Klimt’s exhibition, the film starts with an unconscious Milena rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night accompanied by Alex in the ambulance, ostensibly from an overdose, and in reality, during the film’s shooting, Garfunkel’s then girlfriend Laurie Bird, committed suicide by taking an overdose of Valium in New York, aged 26.
With that hindsight, one is prone to understand Garfunkel’s sometimes perversely surly and tangibly perturbed state when facing off with either a barnstorming Russell or a probing Harvey Keitel, who plays Inspector Netusil, exerts himself in teasing out the truth out of a buttoned-up Alex, as the film’s title refers, the timing of Alex’s recount about the incident doesn’t comply with the physical facts (car radio, Milena’s state, etc.).
Predominantly, Roeg expertly expounds Alex and Milena’s torrid affair by punctuating its aftermath story-line with stacks of flashback in a random arrangement, from the starting point when Milena says farewell to her much older Czech husband Stefan Vognic (Elliott) in the Czech/Austria border, to the pair’s encounter, dating, a Northern Africa vacation (prompts Alex’s proposal of marriage), to the toxic disintegration due to their incongruity (Lüscher’s color test Vs. Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, are the obvious visual pointers). It seems that it is Alex who breaches his work ethic to strike the romance with his client in the first place, then we are repeatedly subjected to the disappointment of Alex’s incompetency of his own profession, his botched attempt to understand a freewheeling Milena’s psychological status, which can be encapsulated in one sentence (I’m paraphrasing here) “to love a woman tremendously, to love her more than one’s own dignity”, a pitfall hounds most men in our patriarchal society. But meanwhile, Roeg and screenwriter Yale Udoff also show up the mercurial side of Milena’s persona, she professes to be a free-spirited soul, morally unattached, physically liberated, but more often than not, she is the one who backslides into pestering Alex after their breakup, which trenchantly confounds that very statement. It is a self-destructive game which takes two to tango, a woman’s congenital insecurity meets a man’s unrelieved self-regard, that’s what Roeg rams home to us albeit his very distracting M.O.
Honestly, it is a mind-bending journey, strewn with zeitgeist reflecting tunes (Billie Holiday, Tom Waits, The Who and counting), where the two leads engaging in graphic sexual acts (and they are nowhere near aesthetically pretty), or exchanging their thoughts in soft-focus treatment. Meantime, the apparently persisting investigation from Netusil, eventually reaches its lurid conclusion without ever sweetening the pills, it nails the psychological nexus in the face of its morally repugnant revelation.
BAD TIMING, a pertinent name for its own ill-fated reception upon its release, is a well-accomplished, counter-cultural, innately candid examination on the caprice, intransigence, and ambivalence of modern relationship and sex philosophy, powered by strong performances, in particular, a spontaneously ravishing Theresa Russell.
referential point: Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW (1973, 8.3/10)