Recently I had an opportunity to see Joseph Losey’s acclaimed film Accident. (The film received the 1967 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes with the Yugoslavian film I Even Met Happy Gypsies.) I wanted to see the film since I was much impressed by The Servant, another film in which Losey collaborated with playwright Harold Pinter.
I found Accident more interesting than very Pinteresque The Servant due to its fastidiously realistic portrayal of the corruptibility of people who are usually considered as the moral paragons of society.
The film starts with the establishing shot of a spacious English house in the countryside. Then, suddenly the loud noise of car crash is heard. The shot of a dimly lit house informs the viewer that the film takes the form of realism. The man of the house comes out and walks to the rolled car. He knows the two people in the crashed car. Then the whole narrative turns to flashback, signaling that the narrative is presented from the man’s point of view.
The man, Stephen (played by Dirk Bogarde, an amazing thespian), turns out to be a philosophy professor at Oxford, and the victims are his students. The young man William is an aristocrat, who does not appear that bright; whereas the young woman Anna, engaged to William at the time of the deadly accident, is an Austrian “princess” who is presented in the film as an enigma, the embodiment of “otherness.” Stephen seems sexually titillated by Anna who occasionally appears to invite Stephen’s advance. Stephen, who has two young children, is married and his wife is currently pregnant with their third child. Their domesticity is portrayed in plain realism which, for instance, is represented by a close-up shot of a sooty, old kettle used for boiling water.
Soon it becomes clear that Stephen is frustrated not only sexually but also professionally when his more successful colleague Charlie shows up. The dialogue full of subdued competition and put-downs is nasty but realistic, evoking the uber-understated conflicts that ordinary people often get engaged in. Soon, it is disclosed that Charlie, who is also married, is having an affair with Anna. As if Charlie’s professional and sexual superiorities over Stephen weren’t enough, to add insult to injury, Charlie one day uses Stephen’s house for his secret affair with Anne, when Stephen is out to London. Bogarde does an excellent job communicating his hidden but seething anger against Charlie.
Stephen hides Anna from the police inspectors when they come to Stephen’s house to investigate the car crash. It seems Anna, who does not have a driver’s license, was driving the car because William was dead drunk as usual. Stephen uses this knowledge to force Anna to have a sex with him. After the accident Anna leaves England, leaving confused Charlie behind.
This film may be meant to show the decline of English national character, but to me it presents one case study of the frightening weakness and fallibility of human “rectitude.”