AN ALMOST PERFECT AFFAIR
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Screenplay by Walter Bernstein and Don Petersen
To anyone who has not been there, the Cannes Film Festival sounds like paradise: free movies, bountiful booze, great food and beautiful people all converge under the sunny skies of the Cóte d'Azur. Would that it were so. In reality, the festival is a grotesque trade fair. The few good movies are mobbed; the best restaurants are overbooked; traffic jams glut the countryside; it often rains. The festival celebrates money, not art, and only the industry's hustlers seem to have fun. For anyone else, a day in Cannes is like a week in Vegas.
No wonder, then, that the Cannes Festival is a perfect subject for Director Michael Ritchie, a satirist who has previously assaulted such institutions as competitive sports (Downhill Racer), beauty pageants (Smile), political campaigns (The Candidate) and est (Semi-Tough). For his new film, An Almost Perfect Affair, Ritchie went to the 1978 festival to record the goings-on in all their vulgar glory. He eavesdrops on the manic deal making that transpires daily on the Carlton Hotel terrace, the pretentious black-tie screenings, the endless parade of female pulchritude for commercial purposes. Such real-life luminaries as Rona Barrett, Edy Williams and Brooke Shields pop up here and there, in most cases to make spectacles of themselves.
Unfortunately there is more to Affair than Ritchie's delicious documentary footage. The backbone of the film is a fictional liaison between Hal (Keith Carradine), a precious young independent director, and Maria (Monica Vitti), a married, middle-aged movie star. When this odd couple first start fooling around there are some amusing cross-cultural jokes, as well as touching erotic interludes in dreamy Riviera locales. But the affair quickly becomes a high-toned soap opera that devours the movie. By the end, the hero and heroine are adrift at sea in a stalled motorboat, screaming platitudes at each other. The scene looks like a parody of Lina Wertmuller, but not, alas, an intentional one.
Banality aside, the love story suffers from Carradine's performance. Once more he is playing the corruptible innocent he already created in Nashville and Pretty Baby. This humorless characterization has calcified: instead of being boyishly naive, Carradine is just pompous and prim. Certainly he is no match for Vitti, who has rarely seemed as radiant and emotionally full-blooded as she is here. With smoky eyes and a voice to match, she reduces her co-star to the stature of a lap dog.
As Vitti's wronged husband, a flamboyant but sympathetic producer, Raf Vallone is so appealing that it is hard to know why Vitti would forsake him. Whether he is arguing on the phone about Burmese distribution rights or comforting his wife in a time of need, the serpentine Vallone is a grand old charmer. We want to see more of him, but once Affair shifts from satire to bathos he fades away. There are too many such missed opportunities. Like other visitors to Cannes, Michael Ritchie arrived with good intentions, only to get so distracted that he forgot why he came in the first place .