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Film / Bad Timing

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Bad Timing is a 1980 British erotic Psychological Thriller film directed by Nicolas Roeg.

Lovers Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) and Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell) meet in Vienna. But before that, they break up. And before that, they have sex for the first time. But before all that, they have sex for the last time. This all comes after she is rushed to the hospital after an attempted suicide. It's just that kind of story.

Also features Harvey Keitel as Inspector Netusil, a self-admittedly bad detective, who interrogates Alex while Milena's fate hangs in the balance in a nearby emergency room. The story of the doomed relationship unfolds via this interrogation, and as such is presented out-of-sequence, often returning to a couple key points of the narrative as the detective repeatedly questions Alex about the parts of his story that don't add up.

Eventually the timeline of the movie jumps to events after the interrogation, as the detective continues his investigation, which leads him down some interesting paths that involve Milena's estranged husband and secret government operations.

But all that isn't really the point. The real focus of the movie is of the obsession and instability that governs the two lovers' tryst, and the dark side to the lust that fuels it. Be prepared for plenty of histrionic screaming fits and uncomfortable sex scenes.

Bad Timing provides examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: The story is presented entirely out of order, starting with a scene from the middle of the relationship playing under the title credits, jumping to Milena's entry to the hospital at the end of the relationship, and continuing like that for the rest of the film, shuffling the events of the timeline like a deck of cards.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Played with. Inspector Netusil definitely tries to use a couple of these (the station left on in Alex's car radio at the time he picked up Milena, his choice brand of cigarettes found in her apartment) to indict Alex. But Alex calls him out on it:
    Netusil: *fter momentarily losing the thread of his line of questioning* Where was I?
    Alex: Making incorrect assumptions.
  • Destructive Romance: Milena is very adulterous, lies she's never been married, makes a lot of scenes and never wants any commitment. Alex can't let her be, though.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Alex eventually has sex with Milena, while she is unconscious.
  • Everybody Smokes: Cigarettes are featured in just about every scene in the movie being smoked by nearly every character.
  • Gaussian Girl: A strange case as it's used in one scene late in the film to accentuate Milena's vulnerability and sadness, not beauty.
  • Market-Based Title: The film was billed in the US as Bad Timing/A Sensual Obsession.
  • Match Cut: This film depends on these to create narrative unity throughout despite the chaotic timeline.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Keitel's Inspector Netusil is an Austrian who occasionally speaks with a thick Brooklyn accent.
  • Rape as Drama: The twisted nature of the relationship arrives at its logical extreme at the end of the film when we see Alex rape a drugged-up Milena before calling the paramedics to save her life.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Alex and Milena visit Belvedere Palace in Vienna, checking out works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele (the latter one's pictures can be seen later in the film as well).
    • Milena is seen reading The Sheltering Sky in one scene.
    • "Invitation To The Blues" from Tom Waits' album Small Change is heard during the opening credits.
    • When Garfunkel and Keitel's characters are hanging pictures to the wall Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" is playing.
    • "The Same Old Story" by Billie Holiday is heard over the end credits.
    • The film is referenced in the song "Bad Timing" on the album Pocket Revolution by dEUS, because it is the favorite film of their lead singer Tom Barman. On that same album the track "Nothing Really Ends" also references the movie briefly:
      The accusations fly like in that movie, you know the one where Martin Sheen waves his arm to the girl in the street
  • Sir Swearsalot: Milena. Cluster F Bombs abound in her dialog.
  • Yandere: Milena increasingly embodies this over the course of the movie.