"You're looking at the new Terry Malick"
That pretty much sums up An Almost Perfect Affair, a romantic comedy and Hollywood satire set amid the glamour and absurdity of the Cannes Film Festival. The script flows with smart, clever dialogue by blacklisted writer Walter Bernstein (Fail-Safe) and Don Petersen, which is well-served by director Michael Ritchie.
The story concerns a naïve but determined indie writer-director, Hal Raymond (Keith Carradine), who comes to Cannes hoping to sell his shot-in-16mm drama about Gary Gilmore, "Choice of Ending." However, the film is confiscated at the airport by customs officials because Raymond neglected to get it passed by the French censors. At Cannes, he befriends a former Italian actress, Maria Barone (Monica Vitti), whose much older producer-husband (Raf Vallone, also in the new DVD of the original Italian Job) has a big film in competition. She helps Raymond get his film out of customs, and the two begin to fall in love.
An Almost Perfect Affair operates, essentially, on three levels. The film works best as a satire / time capsule of the film industry's wheeling and dealing, circa 1979. The picture was really shot in the midst of the festival – Vitti's hotel overflows with Pink Panthers (from Revenge of …) and the famously bad Tai-Pan. Film buffs will want to keep their fingers on the freeze-frame button so they can gawk at posters hawking such films as The Chinese Bandit and The Stud. Many real-life celebrities were photographed on the sly (one wonders if releases were obtained), including director Sergio Leone, George Peppard, and '70s glamour icons Brooke Shields and Farrah Fawcett. More than that, though, the script really understands how the business works. Dick Anthony Williams, playing an unashamedly exploitative deal-maker, seizes upon Raymond's film and immediately changes the title to a much more marketable "Shoot Me Before I Kill Again." Vallone's producer character battles a never-seen director over cuts made to their film, and Bernstein delivers an unexpectedly (but not inappropriately) touching scene which sympathizes with producers. Indeed, the shading of Vallone's character, and the fact that in many ways he's a much better husband than Raymond's self-obsessed filmmaker could ever be is one of the film's strengths.
An Almost Perfect Affair, in its early scenes, suggests a stranger in a strange land tone not dissimilar to Sofia Coppola's recent Lost in Translation. But the romance that eventually takes over is far more conventional and entirely predictable. The dialogue remains smart, however, so it's never dull. Vitti and Vallone's characters were clearly suggested by Sofia Loren and Carlo Ponti, and so their scenes together are especially interesting.
Video & Audio
Made at a time when smaller films like this still had bland mono sound, and color printing was in an unusually ugly, grainy period, An Almost Perfect Affair looks and sounds quite good. The image is sharp with good color, save for the titles were are more representative of the ugly look movies like this usually had in theaters at that time. The mono sound is fine, with Georges Delerue's lovely score coming through just fine.
None, not even a trailer. A commentary track by Bernstein and Carradine would've been nice.
An Almost Perfect Affair was made near the height of director Michael Ritchie's brief flirtation with near-greatness. Ritchie's next film was the calamitous The Island (1980), and that was followed by a string of mostly bad movies, with Cops and Robbersons (1994) being the creative nadir before Ritchie's untimely death in 2001. For me though, one film, 1975's Smile, cancels out any dreck he made late in his career. An Almost Perfect Affair is a notch or two below that film's magic, but it's quite a fine film.