At one point fairly early on in Nic Roeg’s 1980 film Bad Timing we see Alex (Art Garfunkel) giving a lecture to his students on spying. And spying, voyeurism and an obsessive need to investigate, especially an obsessive need to investigate those we love, are themes that run continuously throughout this movie. Alex must know everything about his girlfriend Milena (Theresa Russell); for Alex knowledge is power, knowledge gives him control, and Alex wants to be always in control. But how much can we ever understand about another person? Despite all his efforts Alex never does understand Milena. Milena’s understanding of Alex comes late, and at a heavy cost. The film opens with Milena in an ambulance on the way to hospital in Vienna after a overdose of sleeping pills. The rest of the film is in the form of flashbacks intercut with yet another form of investigation, this being the investigation carried out by an Austrian police inspector, played by Harvey Kietel.
Bad Timing’s probings into the human psyche and into the darker realms of love and sex are certainly disturbing. As with so many of Roeg’s films we see sex scenes intercut with other scenes, in this case intercut with scenes of emergency surgery on the unconscious Milena. The cutting of this film is breath-taking. The key scenes showing what really happened at the apartment after Milena’s phone call to Alex are very unsettling indeed. Garfunkel is superb. Russell is simply brilliant, and Kietel and Denholm Elliott (who plays Milena’s husband) are also excellent. A magnificent film. The Criterion disc contains extremely interesting interviews with both Roeg and Theresa Russell.