Mathieu Amalric, France, 2010, 111 mins, 1.85:1
Mimi Le Meaux, Kitten on the Keys, Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, Evie Lorelle, Roky Roulette, Mathieu Amalric, Damien Odoul, Ulysse Klotz, Simon Roth, Joseph Roth
Blu-ray - France Télévisions Distribution. Region B, BD50, 1080p. DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1. English, French with optional French subtitles (partial).
Review by Noel Megahey
Although he has become more famous as an actor, both in France and on international screens (securing the role of Bond villain in Quantum of Solace although his respectable turn there perhaps not flamboyant enough for Bond fans) – it’s making his own films that Mathieu Amalric sees as his main calling in cinema and Tournée is actually his third film as a director. While there’s no faulting Amalric’s ambition in making a film like Tournée, no doubt about its originality and the freshness of its approach (Amalric was awarded Best Director at Cannes 2010 for the film), ultimately it doesn’t entirely add up to anything more than its simple premise, and, surprisingly doesn’t even show up Amalric’s strengths as an actor.
That premise of Tournée (On Tour) is much the same as the narrative of the film itself, Amalric introducing us to the world of New Burlesque that has been seeing a revival in America since the 1990s, and getting behind the glamour to show us the nature of the real-life women involved in the shows. Amalric then plays Joachim Zand, a former television producer who has left France on bad terms with the industry and with his family, but who hopes to return from America with what he thinks is an exciting new venture that should be perfectly at home in France. He has gathered together a group of diverse New Burlesque talents – real-life performers such as Mimi Le Meaux, Dirty Martini and Kitten on the Keys – to tour France, ultimately building up to a show in Paris, and in the process revitalise the kind of bawdy glamour that the capital city’s night-spots of The Crazy Horse and the Moulin Rouge are famous for.
Since he is working with non-professional actors, Amalric’s approach is necessarily semi-improvisational, the director like Joachim taking the girls along the west coast of France, putting on shows and staying together at the same hotels where they do the filming, being open to the possibilities that arise and trying to get behind the show-biz facades to the real personalities of the American girls involved. While the intentions are fine, Amalric doesn’t entirely succeed and the conversations between most of the girls seem a little forced and remain superficial. Focussing however on one of the girls, Mimi Le Meaux (Miranda Cloclasure) – the only girl really making an effort to speak French in the film – we get some indication of the underlying vulnerability and self-confidence issues that lies behind the superficial glamour and exhibitionism. That is not any major realisation, but it is at least played out reasonably well and with some degree of sensitivity.
The actual drama of the tour is also unfortunately likewise entertaining enough, but mostly just as predictable. There are no particular tensions shown between the girls in the group, but there is some tension around these independent individuals and performers having a common manager, a man moreover. Joachim is just there as their tour manager however – he has no creative input into their performances – and one feels that Amalric is similarly restricted from imposing any kind of narrative or character definition that the girls don’t wish to have expressed. That’s a valid approach, one that is true to the characters and their real-life personalities, or at least their created stage personalities – and that’s the boundary that Amalric never gets convincingly beneath.
Failing to find or provoke any drama between the girls, it’s left to Amalric to do all the real acting and find a narrative thread in Joachim’s family and professional troubles, trying to arrange that all-important show in Paris. Having left in disgrace, with few friends left in the entertainment industry and on bad terms with his family, adds to the daily difficulties of managing a tour, putting on shows and keeping his burlesque stars happy. Even here though, Amalric lacks someone like Arnaud Desplechin to direct and focus his energies, and even though he thoroughly looks the part, from the moustache and ill-fitting suit on a skinny frame, right down to his slouch and manner of bearing, there’s a sense that he is trying too hard to carry the film himself.
Or, perhaps not so much carry the film as carry the narrative drive of the film. On its own terms, the New Burlesque performances are wonderfully performed and filmed, enlivened by a terrific soundtrack of Chuck Berry songs (Louie Louie takes on another meaning entirely when it’s played in this context and in France!), each of the girls bringing their own stage routines to the proceedings and being fairly mesmerising in them, but it’s not really enough to supplement the rather uneventful storyline elsewhere.
In spite of the film being half-English and half-French, the French Blu-ray release of Tournée is unfortunately not English-language friendly, since nearly all of the important dialogue in the film is in French, with only general conversational dialogue taking place in English. It’s a pity, because the film looks well in High Definition and it’s likely to get a DVD-only release in the UK. The disc is a BD50, and according to the cover it is Region B, but I haven’t checked to see if it plays on any other regions. I suspect not. The image quality is strong, with good definition and clear, unsaturated tones. The audio is a strong DTS HD Master-Audio 5.1 mix only. French subtitles are included for the English dialogue, but are optional. The extra features consist of a Trailer and a Making Of (37 mins) that shows the seemingly chaotic but fun conditions under which the film was shot with an Amalric voice-over from a press-conference that narrates the ideas behind it.