Tuesday, March 29, 2011

#312: Samurai Spy

(Masahiro Shinoda, 1965)

I watched Samurai Spy twice, and not because I enjoyed it so much the first time that I couldn't wait to see it again. No, I watched Samurai Spy twice because I had no idea wtf was going on the first time I watched it. After watching it the second time, I'm still not totally clear on what was going on, who had betrayed whom, and why I should care.

A big part of the problem is the foreign origins of the plot. As a Kurosawa fan, I am especially conscious of the difficult relationship between the American viewer and Asian films. Kurosawa's work has been criticized by some viewers as too Western, stuck in a Hollywood mold that is not true to its Asian settings and origins. It's no surprise to these critics that Kurosawa's work has been appropriated quite easily by cinema's mainstream over the years. Watching a film like Samurai Spy reminds you that cultural knowledge - which is often gained through osmosis - can be essential to fully appreciating a film. Understanding the history of Japan in the rudimentary way that all Japanese people effortlessly would seems like it would make the film infinitely more accessible. Add on to that the enormous weight of following all of the foreign names in the film and a viewing become less an enjoyable experience and more a code to be cracked.

This makes the inclusion of the film in Criterion's Rebel Samurai boxset even more interesting. While there are certainly many of the same independent and anti-authoritarian motivations in Shinoda's protagonist here that there are in the protagonists of both Sword of the Beast and Samurai Rebellion, the film itself is much more traditionally insider and stubbornly intent on presenting Japan as its viewer sees it. True, there are some flourishes in the film that would have made Godard proud, and the film's technique surpasses those other films in the set in terms of divorcing itself from the conventional presentation of a samurai film. But the movie is too inside baseball for me to see through to its core. Certain moments  make me think this is my fault - the single shot in which the protagonist is informed that the priest he had met was killed, where the camera pans over to see him running away as the woman who loves him calls after him, comes to mind immediately, as it is a subtly breathtaking sequence. But a plot that features too many names of people we haven't even met being tossed around makes me feel less like I could wrap my brain around the gravity of the moment and more like I am missing something in the translation.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

#512: Vivre Sa Vie

(Jean-Luc Godard, 1962)

Godard's third film is arguably the most important film in his catalog. Made as Godard and Anna Karina were at the height of their love affair, Vivre Sa Vie is the first film of the meat of Godard's career, after his youthful (and vital) first films, Breathless and A Woman is a Woman and before he transitioned into political (and later astructural) formalism. In the ensuing years he would make most of his highest-regarded films: Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville, Pierrot Le FouMasculine Feminine, Made in the U.S.A., Weekend - this is an astonishing run of films, and I would argue each can pay more tribute to Vivre Sa Vie than to Breathless.

The film's basic story is a simple one - almost quaint in its morality were one to view it from a classic perspective. Karina plays a woman struggling to make ends meet, unlucky in love and unhappy in work. She eventually turns to prostitution to make more money and have a happier life. Things don't go as planned. Godard's work is rarely just about the story, and here is no different. His film is divided up into twelve parts and unfolds in an unpredictable pattern that is consistently interesting, despite the well-worn territory of its characters. Karina is one of the great stars of the 60s, and her performance here is mysterious and heartbreaking. I don't love Vivre Sa Vie in the way I love Godard's first two films, but it's impossible to deny its relevance even today.

With A Woman is a Woman as his bridge, Vivre Sa Vie brought Godard's brazen cinematic language into its second phase and established the approach to both narrative and form that he would explore over the next decade. The film's stylistic flourishes are tied into its narrative thrust in a way that seems totally effortless and logical. Of any filmmaker, Godard is perhaps the best at being able to examine the role of cinema through his subjects' lives without marginalizing their diagetic experience. There are prime examples of both of these elements in this film: Karina slipping out the door of a cafe to avoid a shootout from some other movie that collided with this one, the marriage of rigid, Brechtian structure and an unbiased journalistic eye, and most importantly the visit to the cinema to see Joan of Arc - perhaps one of the most iconic Godard moments in his oeuvre. But what makes Vivre Sa Vie so vital to understanding Godard is that none of these elements (and all of them) tell the story of the film, which is for better or worse a love letter, torn into pieces and painstakingly reconstructed. How correctly you believe this process was accomplished is how much truth you believe there is in film. The less you believe, the more room there is for cinema's potential not just as an artform but as a language, and this to me is at the heart of Godard's work.

Friday, March 25, 2011

#120: How to Get Ahead in Advertising

(Bruce Robinson, 1988)

How to Get Ahead in Advertising is certainly one of the stranger films in the Collection. It's also one of the funniest, thanks in large part to Richard E. Grant's performance. The actor was also central to Robinson's other Criterion entry, the equally dark and biting Withnail and I, and he throws himself into this role with a kind of energy that would seem reckless in any other movie, but seems almost certainly essential here.

Grant plays the kind of cynical ad executive we've seen plenty of times before in films before and after this late-80s entry. The difference comes when a creative blockage on a pimple cream account turns into an actual boil on the side of his neck, which begins to grow and grow until it eventually sprouts hair, then eyes, then begins talking. Eventually, this new head takes over, and Grant's original consciousness is left to cling to life as a boil on the side of his alter-ego's neck.

This all sounds rather Cronenbergian, but every aspect of the film is so infused with a John Waters-like campy wink that it would be difficult to imagine anyone being scared or disturbed by the film. There are, admittedly, some vague comparisons to be made between this film and Cronenberg's earlier Videodrome (also in the Collection, and in mine), most notably a totally unlikable anti-hero devoted to underestimating the public, the alteration of the human body - almost always present in Cronenberg's films - and the use of videotape. But Robinson wants to explore the psychological and sociological implications of modern advertising almost exclusively, and the second head Grant's character develops is merely a means to an end (and a clever play on the film's title).

How to Get Ahead in Advertising is not a subtle film, and your response to it will most likely depend on whether or not you can bear the constant harping on the film's theme, which is, I'm sure quite self-consciously, incessant. But Grant's complete faith in the material won me over, and I was laughing too much to bother getting annoyed at being preached to. Anyway, if a product isn't low in something, it must be high in something else, right?

Monday, March 21, 2011

#329: Lacombe, Lucien

(Louis Malle, 1974)

Lacombe, Lucien is a daring portrait of a boy on the cusp of manhood, caught up in history. Lucien lives in occupied France in 1944, just before the Americans beat back German forces. A callous, selfish person (in the first scene we see him passionlessly kill a bird with his slingshot simply because he can), he attempts to join the resistance to get out of his unglamorous job at a local hospital. When they refuse him because of his age, Lucien turns to the Gestapo instead.

Malle's exploration of the French psyche under occupation - and, on a larger scale, man's ability to become complicit in evil through basic, common desires - is a specific kind of subversive movie, a kind which the American public rarely gets to see. Lucien is a supremely unlikable character - nowhere in the film do we sympathize with him, relate to him, or come anywhere close to liking him. Even in his single moment of heroism (spoilers), when he shoots the German officer who has come to take his lover and her grandmother away, he does so not for their sake, but for his own. Lucien does not change in the film, and nothing about the way other people relate to him makes us feel any better about his actions or beliefs (or rather, the lack thereof).

Is it possible to make a great movie about a central character that is entirely reprehensible? Every scene in Lacombe, Lucien made my skin crawl, which was precisely what it was intended to do. Yet I'm not sure what I gained from it. Often in Hollywood, a lack of character evolution and an inability to make the audience connect with the protagonist is equated with bad movies. This is one of the main tenets of the core philosophy of mainstream American cinema, which holds that certain elements are required to make a good movie, and if those elements are not present, it is impossible to be successful.

This is, of course, a silly, stupid notion, one that has prevented many movies from reaching their potential as great movies. But watching Lacombe, Lucien certainly places the issue of a sympathetic - or at least relatable - protagonist front and center. It's difficult for me to think of a movie that successfully balanced upon the shoulders of an unlikable protagonist (I'd love to hear suggestions in the comments), and for me Lacombe, Lucien was no different. I think what Malle did here in terms of intellectual investigation is worthy, admirable even. But it makes for a difficult viewing experience, and not one I can say I enjoyed or even necessarily believe was worth it in the end.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

#430: The Fire Within

(Louis Malle, 1963)

Unlike his reflections on The Lovers, Louie Malle's thoughts on The Fire Within were almost entirely positive, perhaps more positive than they had been when he initially viewed the film. And just as its maker had higher regards for it, so too did I. Like the earlier film, the Fire Within depends largely on one performance. Here, it comes from Maurice Ronet, the other star of Elevator to the Gallows (who looks vaguely like Jude Law). However, Malle has more restraint here than he did with Jeanne Moreau, and the film (and the performance) consequently comes alive in a way The Lovers never really did for me.

The plot is an extremely interesting - and extremely sad - exploration of the suicidal mind. It is roughly based on a novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle about his friend, surrealist poet Jacques Rigaut, who committed suicide. (Rochelle himself took his own life, largely due to his misguided support of the Vichy government - though obviously having written a book about suicide, it wasn't too far down on his list of things he was interested in.) Ronet plays a reformed playboy who is nearing the end of an extended stay at a hospital where he had gone to kick his alcoholism. After a night with a former flame, he returns to the hospital, only to venture out again into the city to reconnect with his old friends, hoping to make one last connection to save him from himself.

What's most interesting and affecting about The Fire Within, particularly to someone like me who has been personally affected by suicide, is that the film seems less about the person who commits suicide than about the people who surround him or her. This might seem strange since everyone who isn't Ronet seems to fade into the background - the movie really is exclusively about him, as much as Cléo from 5 to 7 is only about Cléo.  No other character has any sort of evolution in the film. No character even gets to experience or respond to his death, as the film ends on Ronet's shot to the heart. But the character is constantly reaching out to everyone else in the movie, and it seems only to emphasize his isolation that his encounters seem so out of focus. The camera is complicit in this absence of empathy, and we remain unconvinced Ronet will really do the deed until it's finally done. The ending words of the film don't seem to come from the protagonist as much as they are seared into the conscience of his acquaintances, or at least that's how they seem to me, so full of guilt and anger, so devoid of relief and sensitivity.

It's no surprise that Malle was proud of the film. Of the three films in the collection up to this point in his career, it's the first mature, towering work. Elevator in the Gallows is a more enjoyable, possibly even more perfect film. But The Fire Within is a complex exploration of a very personal and very serious question: as Shakespeare famously asked, "To be or not to be?" That Malle was able to explore this question in such an effortless and moving way speaks to his developing talent, and says a great deal about the masterpieces he would go on to make.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

#429: The Lovers

(Louis Malle, 1958)

Like The Silence a few years later, The Lovers was an international sensation not on its merits, but instead due to the fact that it was rather racy. But keep in mind, this was racy by 1958 standards, which means one brief, passionate scene of lovemaking. There's a bit of a nipple, and a woman has a (gasp!) orgasm, which I don't think existed before this movie was released (I'll have to check the special features to confirm). This all makes me more depressed for people who lived in 1958 than it does make me more or less interested in the movie, which was Malle's follow-up to his debut masterpiece Elevator to the Gallows - which was made when the son of a bitch was just 24.

Age didn't seem to have much of an impact on that earlier film (which is in the collection, but I have already seen multiple times of the course of fifteen years), but it does seem to have hurt The Lovers, which feels mannered and a bit overly idealistic to the point of simplicity. Malle seems to agree in an interview from the 1990s that is included on Criterion's release. The film seems like it is an exercise in love philosophy rather than a genuinely realistic movie (perhaps the one thing it has in common with one of the more unusual inclusions in the collection, Chasing Amy, also by a director in his 20s, albeit a far inferior one).

The film focuses entirely on the radiant Jeanne Moreau, for whom Malle made the film. She plays a bored housewife in the country, stuck between her dull, controlling husband and her brief dalliances with a man in Paris whom she sees on weekend getaways. One day, entirely through chance, she meets a man and falls so head over heels in love that she abandons her entire life (including her young daughter) to be with him. The story is so simple that it hardly seems like the point of the film. And it isn't, really. These are archetypes, a fable meant to be timeless, classy even. Malle is working at poetry here.

But that's just it: the seams are showing. Though the director would go on to make many great films, The Lovers comes off as a failed experiment. Moreau's character reminds me a great deal of the unnamed protagonist of The Earrings of Madame de..., but her emotional roller coaster lacks the complexity of that film. The final switch over where she goes from mildly annoyed with the man to madly in love - willing to drop literally everything of value in her past life - is wildly abrupt and unearned. This is almost certainly on purpose: love has no explanations or reason, Malle is saying, it is a light that is turned on and obliterates everything that was previously visible. It's a silly notion, and I'm torn between two camps, one which sees the power of love to do things society deems unacceptable (like leave your child) and one which sees a misguided romantic's idealized love, a love - oh, if he only knew! - that pales in comparison to the real thing.

The movie is also obviously a stab at lyricism for Malle early in his career before he found his footing. Malle's best pictures are moving and beautiful, but they are never abstract (the ones I've see anyway). The whimsy feels forced and mannered instead of effortless. In the interview from the 90s, Malle seemed slightly embarrassed by the film, or at least by its success. Considering his life at the time - which found him as an aging, universally heralded director, a once divorced but now happily married father of a young girl of his own - it's not a surprise he would feel that way. For me, two years into a marriage to the love of my life with a baby on the way, The Lovers doesn't look like any love I can recognize either.

Monday, March 14, 2011

#553: Fish Tank

(Andrea Arnold, 2009)

I don't beg often, but if you are reading this and you haven't seen this movie, please do so. Not only is it a great movie, it's the kind of movie that needs to be made so much more often. When I say that, I don't just mean films made by women, about women, about teenagers, about poverty, about little-seen worlds. I don't just mean intelligent movies, beautiful movies, quiet movies, personal movies. I mean all of these things, but most of all I mean movies that mean something, that can not only affect you, but have already affected their creators. Movies that people care about, beyond the bottom line or how much you are able to waste time being entertained. I mean movies that emerge from love and are loved. Please see Fish Tank. Let it grab you.

Fish Tank tells the story of a teenaged girl named Mia growing up in the British projects (they call them estates there, apparently without any initial irony). With no friends and a checked out mother, Mia wanders through her decaying neighborhood searching for a way to let out her frustration. She has been forced to build up her defenses by her surroundings. The arrival of a new boyfriend for her mother ushers in a new phase in her life, however, when he begins to take interest in Mia and her sister. He treats them well (even acknowledging their existence is a step up from Mia's mother) and seems genuinely engaged with the family. Needless to say, this all does not end well.

Andrea Arnold's second feature-length film has already received many of the expected comparisons to similar British films. The most notable is, of course, Ken Loach's Kes, which serves as a great-granddaddy to all coming of age films set in working class Britain. The film might also be compared to the more obvious crowd-pleaser Billy Elliot, which also featured a young aspiring dancer (only we can clearly see that Mia is no good as a dancer). Personally, I like the comparison to one of the great films of the last decade, Ratcatcher. Also made by a woman and set in a similarly dilapidated Scottish project, that earlier film was perhaps more poetic and lyrical than the gritty and straightforward (though beautifully shot) Fish Tank. But both films manage to make their settings come alive and interact with their protagonists in ways that are both moving and illuminating. Mia's encounters with the horse are probably the best example in this film of the kind of surreal touches that are interwoven with harsh depictions of the reality of poverty in 1970s Scotland so tightly in Ratcatcher. But Fish Tank's larger moments never feel like anything but a natural extension of Mia's inner turmoil, and the film manages to stay unfailingly authentic and vividly personal.

Some movies are only relevant because of a central performance or two, an exercise in technique that is often less fun to watch than it is to create. Fish Tank is not a performance film, but it depends entirely on Katie Jarvis's performance as Mia. Discovered in a train station yelling at her boyfriend (which reviewers seem legally required to mention), the actress gives such a nuanced, compelling performance that it would be easy to think she isn't acting at all. Her scenes with the intimidatingly brilliant Michael Fassbender (who will be an international star in about ten seconds) are so alive that it's difficult to watch. In these moments, the film is almost a suspense thriller, the viewer reduced to screaming "don't open that door!" as the killer lurks in the shadows, ready to dismantle his prey.

It would be easy to write Fassbender's character off as a rapist or pedophile. He certainly takes advantage of a situation that he, as an adult and a man, has a moral (and of course legal) obligation to extricate himself from, though everyone who sees the film will immediately feel a sense of impending danger between the two early in the film; his character was never meant to be strong or good-hearted. I believe he is weak more than he is evil (or is evil just a simplistic portrayal of the weak?), but what interests me more is what Mia will take from her experience, because that is what I think interests the film. Arnold gives her film's final moments an intense ambiguity; the scene of Mia, her mother, and her sister dancing to Nas's "Life's a Bitch" (a song on which I have spent thousands of words) is a powerful one not because it unites the family towards a brave new cohesion but because dissolution is near, and dancing isn't just celebration but momentary rest from struggle. As she leaves for her new life in Wales, the tone is one of renewal rather than defeat, but it is hardly joyful. Fish Tank's final moments are of life, messy and determined. Mia begins again.

#106: Coup de Torchon

(Bertrand Tavernier, 1981)

My favorite fiction book of all time is Albert Camus's The Stranger. This is partially because I love Camus's style, but mainly because I am fascinated by his narrator and invigorated by his conclusions. "For the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world," Camus writes in the book's final pages. It's a powerful concept that can be read as either nihilistic or rigidly moralist (or at least humanist). Life is almost literally what you make of it.

I bring up The Stranger because Coup de Torchon lends itself so well to this philosophy. Though the book upon which the film was based (Pop. 1280 by pulp hero Jim Thompson) was actually written before The Stranger, Tavernier's film is relocated to French-occupied West Africa pre-WWII, and has been infused with a rich steeping of existentialism. The film's protagonist, Lucien, is the police chief of a small backwater town, and is made to be the butt of all jokes (in one case, literally, as his superior kicks him in the ass to demonstrate how Lucien should handle some pimps who have made it their duty to humiliate him). Lucien dutifully plays the part, until one day he decides to begin killing off all of the horrible people in his town.

Pop. 1280 was written in first person, which forces the viewer to be sympathetic to the protagonist's actions. This is difficult to achieve in film, especially without first-person narration (an overused device if there ever was one - most modern films that use it could eliminate it from the final cut and nothing would be different). Tavernier doesn't quite elicit sympathy for his Lucien - I'm not even sure he (or Lucien himself, for that matter) really wants it - but he is able to let his protagonist's world take form in an increasingly claustrophobic way. By the time Lucien's really dastardly deeds are done, it's hard to hold anyone accountable for anything in this morally bankrupt environment. Even though the film is not being presented from Lucien's perspective, it's as if Lucien himself had made the film.

This is why the film seems so darkly funny. We don't cringe as bodies pile up because people are discharged with such a routine shrug of violence and revenge. This tone isn't designed to entertain, as it was so perfectly in a film like Kind Hearts and Coronets, but instead to illuminate our uncomfortable relationship with our own morality and mortality. The fact that we feel nothing is meant to make us feel uncomfortable.

And yet the film seems to imply these people are already dead. This final moment of French imperialism stands in for any instance of sustained societal wrongs, when absurdity and morally-corrupt rebellion seems like the only option (the less complicated but still admirable Stander comes to mind). The idea that prejudice - most frequently racism or sexism - destroys the perpetrator as much as if not more than the victim is not a new concept, and wasn't even when Coup de Torchon was made. But the film introduces this concept in such a non-judgmental way that its real sentiments might not be entirely clear.

I read a couple of contemporary reviews of the film after watching it that were negative. The core takeaway seems to be the film's emptiness, a lack of soul that might hold it together as its world crumbles around the viewer. This seems to me to be precisely the point of the film, and what ties it to The Stranger in such a fascinating way. Lucien, I think, is meant to be all of us and none of us. Put into such a hateful, broken society in a position devoid of power or the ability to make a difference, we want to believe we would be like him almost as much as we fear we could become him. We hope for the camera to judge him so we do not have to. Instead, all we get is a gentle indifference.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

#355: Hands Over the City

(Francesco Rosi, 1963)

I enjoyed Hands Over the City much more than I enjoyed Rosi's other film in the collection, Salvatore Giuliano. This is despite the fact that his earlier film is more widely praised and clearly the technical and thematic roadmap for the later film. I think this is most likely because Hands Over the City is about not necessarily more universal concepts, but concepts that are more relatable to my specific experience. Living my whole life in a country that is thankfully politically stable (if tragically politically stagnant), it is with a scholar's eye rather than a democratic heart that I view Salvatore and his quest for freedom. On the other hand (no pun intended) this film is about something that has affected and will continue to affect my life: the corruption and immorality that surround the redevelopment of cities in democratic society. In a larger context, the film is about much more than that, as the portrait that is painted expands beyond the basic plot and begins to explore the true nature of capitalist democracies and the relationship between the rich and powerful.

Having been to Naples, I know firsthand what the end result was of the dealings that are dramatized here. While the city still pulses with the energy of the typical Italian center, it is apparent within moments of stepping off the train that something is not right. Naples is a city interrupted, a controlled experiment in development birthed from an unsustainable system, its residents the victims of that experiment. Watching Hands Over the City, one is constantly reminded of that failure (which has only grown over time; see Gomorrah), but also reminded of similar experiments gone wrong - whether through corruption, greed, or simply bad intentions - in the US.

Rosi shoots, scores, and scripts Hands Over the City as a murder mystery, though it's unclear which one of many victims he's hinting at (democracy? integrity? Naples? Italy?). The many dimly lit back rooms that his villains slide through on their way to ultimate victory seem created for the purpose of abuse, of murder, as if there is no other way for these men of power to operate. The film's final moments don't provide any easy answers, and Rosi is ultimately indicting the system rather than the individuals who take advantage of it. There are so many times during Hands Over the City when the people have an opportunity to take back their government but choose not to (the most clear cut of which is obviously the election) that it's hard to place blame on the men who exploit their ignorance and loyalty. In the end, we get the leaders we deserve, which is the gift and the curse of democracy.

Monday, March 7, 2011

#143: That Obscure Object of Desire

(Luis Buñuel, 1977)

Though it was pure coincidence that I viewed them back to back, Bad Timing and That Obscure Object of Desire make for a pretty cohesive double feature. The final Buñuel film in the collection chronologically (and his final film before his death), That Obscure Object of Desire is a fitting end in that it sums up many of the themes Buñuel had explored, particularly in the latter half of his fifty-year career. But it's also a pitch black comedy of manners, and - like Bad Timing, made three years later - a deeply cynical film about the power struggle between the male desire of possession and the female desire for individuality.

The film is (very loosely) adapted from a heralded book that was often the source material for films, Le Femme et le Pantin, about a sophisticated gentleman who falls in love with a woman and sacrifices everything for her to be his. Buñuel shifts so much around (and heavily infuses his film with an anarchic spirit carried along by the random acts of terrorism sprinkled throughout) that the movie is much more of an enigma than this set-up might have you believe. In the end, is the man being tortured, teased, and prodded by his object of desire, or is the woman constantly struggling to force him to see her as her own person?

Buñuel makes his film so oblique that I honestly don't know if this confusion was intended or not. The rest of the film is equally unattainable. The titular object is played by two separate women (and dubbed by a third), both of whom come and go in random succession, with no explanation.The film's prologue and narrative framing seems almost totally irrelevant, except to place the viewer's sympathies with the male protagonist from the beginning.

There are so many Buñuelian elements to the film that it seems silly to list them all: maids, bourgeois, food, etc. are all present. The movie is so much about Buñuel's movies that it's unclear to me whether the terrorists are terrorizing the world of the film or the film itself. Moving through Buñuel's films has certainly given me a stronger affection for his sensibilities, but That Obscure Object of Desire reminded me that he can often seek to normalize his own hang ups, which makes me feel alienated from some of his production, including this final movie, where everything goes up in smoke anyway.

#303: Bad Timing

(Nicholas Roeg, 1980)

Nicholas Roeg is surely one of the more inventive and experimentally stylistic directors in the collection, but while that can often mean work that becomes dated or out of step with modern rhythms, his films still feel just as provocative as ever. Walkabout, one of the first ten films in the collection, is easily described as an assault, a deeply conflicted exploration of the relationship between man and society, while Don't Look Now (which is not in the collection) is a disturbingly offbeat take on the thriller genre. Bad Timing, Roeg's collaboration with folk singer and psycho-sexual-thriller regular Art Garfunkel, is similarly affecting, and depicts its core relationship as a power struggle that destroys both participants.

All three of these films use jump cut editing and various cinematic flourishes to complement their narratives that feel alternately invigorating and frustratingly antiquated. But Bad Timing is the most successful because its temporal shifts, odd musical cues, and inventive freeze frames and rack focusing seem so interwoven with the thematic elements of the film. Garfunkel plays a psychiatrist in Cold War Vienna, in love with a mysterious woman he meets at a party. The film toggles back and forth between the present, where the woman, Milena, has been rushed to a hospital after attempting to overdose on pills and Garfunkel is being interrogated by a detective played by Harvey Keitel, and flashbacks of their relationship, which climaxes with a deeply disturbing final embrace towards the end of the film.

The basic concept of Bad Timing is rather routine: Milena, you see, is a wild flower, and no man can control her. But Garfunkel must have her all to himself, even if it means destroying her. There are unique elements of the story, but this core dynamic is long past its expiration date. What saves the film is its consistent and hypnotic tone, which Roeg is rather masterfully able to sustain over the course of two hours. Despite a lack of true parallels, Run, Lola, Run came to mind often, not only because that film kept its breakneck stylistic pace though an admittedly easier 80 minutes, but because both films have evaded through sheer technical skill hhat seemed like their respective dated fates, and instead come across as refreshingly bold to this day.

Roeg manages to stay relevant because his films, unlike a movie like, say, Easy Rider, are not tied to any temporal counter culture, but are instead inherently contradictory to the mainstream identity of film. When combined with the mysterious nature of his narratives, this off-kilter technique makes for continually engaging viewing experiences, and the constant renewal of a cult of curiosity. Though I haven't yet watched The Man Who Fell to EarthBad Timing is perhaps the best representative of this timeless aesthetic. It makes the film a must-see for cinephiles, despite its flaws.