Joseph Losey, 1967, UK
A droll dark comedy of manners and coolly detached condemnation of the infidelities, arrogance, indifference and debauchery of the academia. Director Joseph Losey’s fascination with and attention to the English class systems reaps great rewards, combining with “The Servant” and “The Go-Between” to produce a fascinating exploration of status, repression, cricket greens and beige rooms.
Misogyny, patriarchy and classism saturate everything, right up to the heady heights of the Oxford University Philosophy faculty. Here, Dirk Bogarde completes another brilliant portrayal of studied mannerisms, slowly giving way to something far more primal and despairing. The longing that he and his immediate male social circle has for a particular student, seemingly a princess, undoes everyone. Male desire is a fragile thing and they aren’t very mature about it, for all their careful affectations of decorum, aloofness and intelligence. How so very clever they are in their suppressed jealousies, in how they talk openly about their infidelities and their little love triangle. The professors do not think the young stud Michael York has a chance in the winning, but not one of them is really getting to the heart of the princess. She is a catalyst, an intangible object of desire, a gorgeous young woman, but barely a personality. This is rather the effect of her status in a patriarchal society rather than a failing of the source novel “Accident” by Nicholas Losey or Harold Pinter’s typically excellent and slightly abstract screenplay.
The novel veers into what the dust jacket likes to call “a prose poem”, one of those very phrases that probably doesn’t entice readers who balk at the pretences of academic literary study. It achieves a remarkable amount of mileage from a rather airless affair, delving into how minor and tawdry human melodrama can segue into artistic expression. The novel’s erratic and long flashback centre-piece that hangs between the bookends of the accident and the aftermath ~ the cover-up, as it were ~ is perfectly matched by Losey’s excellent formal cinematic approach of cross-cutting chronology, exemplary editing and the jumps from moment-to-moment. The colour scheme is cricket green and bored beige ~ almost a variation on black-and-white as cinematographer Gerry Fisher says ~ and, like “The Go-Between”, captures an a delicious tone of privileged rural England. Relax at the gorgeous jazzy, dreamy boat ride down the river, for example. Occasionally the camera is less casual in its capturing of natural and banal beauty and the shot holds a moment too long so that we notice this.
Otherwise, a lot of the loose-limbed feel, the naturalism matched by precise editing feels decidedly French New Wave… But the acting is particularly English in its approach, its stately cadence. Bogarde, York and Stanley Baker are all excellent, exploring this slightly odd world. As with the New Wave, the pure sensation is probably greater than the story, which in truth is a slight thing. As with the other Losey-Pinter films of this period, part of the achievement is in feeling that a mystery of English behaviour has been both confronted and found essentially impenetrable and repellent. This remains a haunting and compelling quality and evidence of much of the brilliance of a film like “Accident”.