Mathieu Amalric won the Best Director award for Tournée (On Tour) at this year’s Cannes film festival, and it is easy to see why. In what was, by all accounts, a less than vintage year at the festival, the jury must have been impressed by the movie’s documentary-style edginess.
Amalric also co-wrote the script, which was originally inspired by a Colette story, L’Envers du Music-Hall (Music-Hall Sidelights), and plays the leading role of Joachim Zand, a formerly successful television producer who has brought a troupe of American New Burlesque performers to tour various venues on the periphery of France.
Just as much of the action is situated in the wings of theaters and in hotel rooms rather than onstage, we as spectators seem to remain on the sidelines when it comes to knowledge about the characters. Unlike the striptease artists, whose job it is to uncover themselves, the central character reveals very little about himself over the course of the film. We discover that he has somehow fallen from grace, but a brief visit he makes to Paris poses more questions than it answers as he argues first with a brother who seems to have a successful television career and then with a theater director. In the same trip to Paris, he picks up his two young sons from a former partner who is in hospital and takes them on tour for a few days. His utter fecklessness as a father and the refreshingly uncutesy depiction of the two kids (played by brothers Simon and Joseph Roth) make this part of the movie particularly moving.
There is a feeling of authenticity about the American striptease artists, because they are played by real New Burlesque performers with stage names like Mimi Le Meaux, Dirty Martini and Kitten on the Keys, who devised their own
acts (of varying quality) for the film. Every humdrum detail about life on tour is captured with realism, from the removal of false eyelashes to a sweaty sexual encounter in a hotel toilet.
Some scenes have the kind of randomness that one might assume is commonplace in a showbiz troupe’s life on the road. Joachim’s constant requests, always refused, at hotels to turn down the Muzak, for example, will strike a chord with anyone who has spent long periods in anonymous hotels. And the charged, flirtatious conversation between Joachim and the female cashier behind the glass barrier at a service station (wonderfully played by Aurélia Petit), adds very little to the narrative but is glorious in itself.
All in all, Amalric probably deserved the Best Director gong. There is a haunting and haunted quality about the movie that makes it memorable and affecting. Amalric manages to achieve a sense of poetry from the most unpromising situations. But in the movie’s improbable final moments, the director seems more interested in the atmospheric setting of an abandoned hotel by the sea than in providing narrative resolution.Favorite