Directed by Nicholas Roeg
Written by Yale Udoff
Set in Vienna, Austria, Bad Timing explores the relationship between two Americans who meet at a party: young, free-spirited Milena and psychiatrist Dr. Alex Linden, who is teaching in Vienna. Their love affair quickly turns into an overwhelming sexual obsession for both.
The film begins with Milena being rushed to the hospital due to a drug overdose with Alex accompanying her. He claims to only be a friend, but upon further inquiry by Inspector Netusil, Alex’s account of the events doesn’t add up.
The story of Bad Timing is a mystery, but not just the obvious mystery Netusil is attempting to discover about what happened to Milena that evening, which is what propels the plot along. The real mystery is about Milena and Alex: who they are and why they continue to stay together. The film offers fragments of their story, but the pieces don’t completely illuminate the true nature of what is happening because even the characters don’t have the answers.
Milena approaches Alex at a party and they soon begin their affair, which is a series of short bursts of happiness with frequent stops and plenty of melodrama. Every time they break up and move on, it never lasts long before one of them calls or shows up, constantly reappearing and refusing to move on. Alex is the worse of the two. He waits all night in front of Milena’s apartment, confronting her when she finally shows up hangover in the morning. Other times, Alex sits back and spies on her. That doesn’t excuse Milena because she knows how to manipulate Alex. She calls while Alex has a date over and gets into a fight, knowing full well that will bring him over to her place. Alex picks up the phone call knowing full well only Milena calls so late. They are both immature and allow themselves to be overwhelmed by their desires. What they don’t realize is that what they are attracted to in the other is the same thing that repels them.
The editing choices are really great as the cuts usually parallel what is happening. It gives the pacing a smooth cohesiveness. Bad Timing was originally going to be told in a linear narrative, but Roeg and editor Tony Lawson created the film’s fragmented structure, giving it suspense and intrigue that was needed to keep the story compelling.
The film has a great soundtrack that features The Who, Tom Waits, Billie Holiday and Keith Jarrett. The song choices accurately reflect the moods of the scene. The reason it took so long for the film to be released on DVD is because of the negotiations for musical clearances.
The extras include new interviews with Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas discussing the making of the film as well as one with actress Theresa Russell, who went on to marry Roeg. There are also deleted scenes, half without sound, that reveal more about their relationship. One that shouldn’t have been cut from the film shows Milena arrive at the cocktail party while Alex is there with a date. It takes place before her late-night phone call and provides insight as to why she called and why he picked up.
Bad Timing is a very good film; however, it is not one most people will enjoy. Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell are brave actors willing to expose a rawness and ugliness that infects people who give in to their desires. They authentically embody these characters and their relationship is portrayed with such a brutal honesty that it will strike a deep chord of discomfort. Witnessing them together is like spending time with a couple that isn’t good for each other where you can’t do anything other than watch. Even worse, it might serve as a reminder when you were involved in a similar situation.