On Tour -- Film Review

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CANNES -- This French homage to classic American burlesque, still known in some parts of the U.S. as the bur-lee-que, doesn't quite work, but has its endearing moments nonetheless. Headlined by the brilliant and prolific French actor Mathieu Amalric ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), who also wrote and directed, the best thing about "On Tour" (Tournee) is his nuanced, mercurial performance as a feckless former television producer whose talent seems principally to lie in screwing things up.

French audiences, who tend to love all things retro that America has ever produced, may very well take to this slight tale of a wayward Frenchman trying to redeem himself through the earnest efforts of American strip-teasers with names like Mimi Le Meaux and Dirty Martini, but theatrical sales in other territories, especially the U.S., seem highly unlikely.

Joachim (Amalric) has escaped his many complicated entanglements in Paris to light out for the New World. There he has formed a troupe of real American strip-tease artists and, after enjoying some success there, he decides to take them on a tour of France. The film is often shot with a hand-held camera which catches the little aleatory details of real-life, a few of which seem genuinely revealing, but most of which don't ever jell into anything larger. With the exception of a couple of superb, understated scenes-for example, a chance encounter between Joachim and an anonymous cashier at an all-night gas station -- these moments seem to hint, and sometimes shout, "this is meaningful," but mostly aren't.

On a purely practical level, Amalric's decision to alternate between speaking French and English, in the same monologue, will drive audiences not familiar with both languages crazy. More important, the documentary style on display seems to be intent on capturing some truth about the essential difference between the Old World and the New that never quite materializes. It is also doubtful that many audiences will find the fleshy amplitude of the zaftig performers much of a turn-on, though their numerous burlesque numbers do manifest a kind of glorious tackiness.

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About two-thirds of the way through the film, Joachim, all alone, finally makes it back to Paris after playing a host of port cities, in hopes of a triumphant return that never bears fruit. Instead he is beaten up and insulted by former colleagues, but we never learn exactly why. Children also magically appear with no warning and no backstory, and we watch as Joachim makes a complete hash of fatherhood as well.

At the very end, when the troupe discovers a kind of magical Never-Never Land in an abandoned luxury hotel, the film turns philosophical about the nature of real family, but we've already understood in images -- such as a lonely figure skateboarding in an abandoned swimming pool -- and a few well-captured moments like the encounter at the gas station, whatever there is to understand.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Competition

Production Companies: Les Films du Poisson, Neue Mediopolis Filmproduktion, Arte France Cinema
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Mimi Le Meaux, Kitten on the Keys, Dirty Martini, Roky Roulette
Director: Mathieu Amalric
Screenwriter: Mathieu Amalric, Philippe Di Folco, Marcelo Novais Teles
Director of photography: Christophe Beaucarne
Production designer: Stephane Taillasson
Editor: Annette Dutertre
Sales: Le Pacte
No rating, 111 minutes
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