Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The adultery-themed comedy The Other Woman has us thinking back on other films about infidelity.
Bad Timing (1980)
It’s a miracle that Art Garfunkel’s performance in Bad Timing didn’t immediately and forever extinguish all sexual desire on Earth. The singer’s turn as Alex Linden, a horny, repressed, and dangerously uncool university lecturer in post-Cold War Vienna, strips the male psyche to its core with such violent aplomb that the character resolves as less of a man than a gangly and weaponized rebuttal to romance. Like everyone who agreed to appear in a Nicolas Roeg film, Garfunkel deserves credit for his lack of vanity, but perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental that the film was released in the first year of the period that his Wikipedia page refers to as “Depression and disappearance.”
Bad Timing is unusual for a film about adultery, in that it identifies with neither the husband nor the wife, but rather the third party who comes between them. But anyone familiar with earlier Roeg efforts like Performance or Don’t Look Now would know better than to think he’d tell a story about the supposedly sacred vows of marriage when he could focus instead on the primal energies that make them so unnatural to uphold.
The film begins with Alex’s lover, an irrepressible young woman named Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell), being rushed to the hospital after suffering from an apparent drug overdose. Guided by the narrative logic of someone trying to reassemble a jigsaw puzzle of their own twisted sex life, Bad Timing is told through fragments and flashbacks, its feverish chronology framed by a series of scenes in which a detective played by Harvey Keitel interrogates Alex about his girlfriend’s accident. Jumping from the party at which Alex first hits on Milena (“If we don’t meet, there’s always the possibility it could have been perfect”) to their horrifying final night together, Roeg’s storytelling is actually more linear than it seems. Once Alex learns that Milena is married to a much older man, his love rots into obsession a little more with every subsequent scene, Roeg’s zooms and Keitel’s questioning reducing him to nothing but neuroses.
The dynamic between Alex, Milena, and her husband (Denholm Elliott) coheres into a brooding psychosexual riff on the isosceles love triangle in The Great Gatsby, as Alex’s need to own Milena completely is contrasted with her husband’s confidence that the drama will blow over soon enough. But Alex’s problem isn’t understanding so much as self-awareness. Early in the film he looks at the lovers in Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss, and says to Milena: “They’re happy… because they don’t know each other well enough yet.” As if to prove the point, Nicolas Roeg married Theresa Russell two years later. They would make some great films together before they got divorced.
Availability: Bad Timing is available on Criterion DVD, to rent or purchase through Amazon Instant Video and iTunes, and to stream on Netflix.