What is it that's so unsatisfactory about this film? And what can that tell us? Before answering that question, a brief run-through of the plot. Glenda Jackson's frustrated bourgeois housewife, having gone to the spa town of Baden-Baden for unspecified reasons, maybe or maybe doesn't have a brief affair with Helmut Berger's young gigolo. In town on a botched drug deal, Berger operates through a combination of what we might term freelancing: as a car or drug smuggler but, it seems, principally as a gigolo whose opening line is that he's a "poet". (The role he plays here, as a class-ambiguous outsider who both manipulates and is manipulated by bourgeois families seething with tension, mirrors that of Visconti's then-recent Conversation Piece--or, indeed, Terence Stamp in Pasolini's Teorema, at once far more ambiguous and far more socially incisive than either film.) Meanwhile, back in British suburbia, Jackson's husband, writer Michael Caine abandons plans to work on a novel to begin a screenplay based on his jealous imaginings of his wife's Baden-Baden sojourn. When Berger telephones Caine to announce that he's an admirer of his work and turns up (literally) "for tea", the stakes are set for the triangle to play out, with the added drama in the final third of Berger's drug connections, among them the poker-faced Michael Lonsdale, turning up in a kind of lugubrious pursuit.
Losey feels obliged to attract the attention in terms of social relations toward a visual mechanism which was always designed to conceal these relations.
And they're not likeable [...] Helmut's character [...] [is] the only one in the whole film who has an articulated, concrete philosophy. It's an anarchistic philosophy but at least it's there. The others are just kidding themselves one way or another. I've made that picture a thousand times, maybe not as well, but - you know, it's a remake essentially. It deals with an impossible situation in which a bourgeois life encases people and they don't get out of it and to that extent it's The Prowler, Accident, Eve.
Losey looks at this small world, this modern fish tank, with a slightly indifferent tenderness. He continues to pretend undoing the terribly tangled web of the plot, even though it is no more important than mishmash.