Directed by: NICOLAS ROEG
1980, TSPDT Rank #911
In the 1970s, Nicolas Roeg made a number of films (Walkabout, Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth) which presented fairly simple narratives in a trademark style which combined hypnotic visuals and innovative editing for an end result that was quite unlike that of any other filmmaker. With his first film of the 1980s, Roeg turned to the done-to-death story of a well-respected, unassuming man falling in love with a free-spirited, promiscuous woman, and eventually descending into unmitigated and unending jealousy. I don't think this is one of Roeg's best films, but there are a number of things which set it apart from the myriad of other films which have used this basic plot. First of all, the story of the torrid, rocky romance of the two lovers (played by Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell) is told through a jagged series of flashbacks, which in itself is not unusual; only in this case, the flashbacks are intercut with a framing narrative set after Russell's suicide attempt. Doctors are shown performing graphic operations on her - as she is in a state of advanced coma after arriving at the hospital - and Garfunkel is shown being investigated for his potential role in her suicide. This unsettling structure turns what would otherwise have been a fairly commonplace story into a kind of thriller. Harvey Keitel's vaguely menacing performance as the detective in charge of investigating Garfunkel's character also helps to add a definite sinister atmosphere to the proceedings.
However, once the novelty of its presentation evaporates, much of the film fails to be all that compelling. The settings of Vienna and (briefly) Morocco add a somewhat exotic flavor at times, but the narrative arc of the flashbacks seems nearly identical to that of many other similar films. Toward the end, the film takes some particularily unsavory turns which accentuate certain thematic elements of the story that would normally be glossed over in similar films, but by this point in the film it doesn't seem to make much difference. To me, this seems to be the type of film which relies almost entirely on form over content. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself, but in this case the form seems intended to present some sort of heightened meaning to the viewer - something which I don't think was really achieved. By the end of the film, it just feels cold and vacant. Maybe this is meant to be symbolic, but ultimately it makes for a film which isn't really that interesting or satisfying in any kind of way.