Directed by Nic Roeg, this tale of an intense affair looks like the last seventies movie ever made. Released in 1981, it's a film for adults, aimed at the then 30 something baby boomers, and follows in the footsteps of Last Tango In Paris in its story of an sexually obsessive relationship that's doomed to end very badly for all concerned.
Art Garfunkel plays Alex, a quietly intense psychiatrist who's picked up at a party by a vivacious, sexually free young woman, Milena, played by Theresa Russell. He becomes increasingly besotted with her, lured in by her wayward sexuality, and her utter lack of restraint. But these same character traits also repel him, as they lead her to be unfaithful, and make her unable to take his desire to settle down seriously. They break up, but despite having affairs herself, she manages to keep him hanging on, phoning him when he's having sex with another woman, and managing to remain at the forefront of his life. As they drift apart, she uses suicide attempts to bring him back, leading to a gruelling extended scene where Alex faces the truth about Milena and himself.
The story is presented out of sequence, and starts with Milena's unconscious arrival at a Viennese hospital. From there, the history of the relationship is shown in flashback, with Harvey Keitel as Inspector Netusil, questioning an unhelpful Alex. As is probably obvious, this is in no way a mainstream picture. True, Roeg previously made the deeply odd Performance, but however weird that was, it was about gangsters and rock stars. This is about an ageing psychiatrist and his mad girlfriend, characters that lack any kind of cult cachet.
There's a lot to appreciate though: the direction is excellent, the editing of the different flashbacks is far superior to (and much harder work than) recent attempts to use out of sequence storytelling, (Memento, Pulp Fiction, etc.) and the acting is raw and strong. Russell is very impressive as Melina, making it easy to understand her appeal, as she puts across her mix of selfish intensity and fragility brilliantly. The scene where she starts out as a good housewife, but ends up throwing bottles at the hurriedly departing Garfunkel is great. Garfunkel's character is reactive, and while good throughout, he only really gets to come into his own in one key scene, but there he is superb.
Despite all these positives, the film also seems indulgent, and it takes a long time to let us see its secrets. Worse, when it becomes obvious just what the problem is, it goes on, and on, making the same point again and again. Keitel's character seems out of place, almost a Columbo-style TV detective, trying to tease Garfunkel into saying what has happened. Keitel is a good actor, but this is Austria, and a New Yorker is a poor fit for a supposedly local plod. A real period piece, Bad Timing is more than worth a look, but lacks the cult appeal of Roeg's earlier work, and is not for the faint of heart. 8/10
Adrian Horocks (March 2005)
Tango In Paris
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