‘Tournée’: Burlesque on Tour and Broken Dreams (The New York Times)


CANNES — Their names are Mimi Le Meaux, Dirty Martini, Roky Roulette and Kitten on the Keys, and they are the stars of “Tournée” (On Tour), Mathieu Amalric’s comedy about a troupe of burlesque strippers lost in the French provinces.

Mr. Amalric, 44, was discovered by Arnaud Desplechin, who cast him in “La sentinelle” (1992) two decades ago; he belongs to a vast cinema family, and never stops acting. He won a César for his title role in “Le scaphandre et le papillon” (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), adapted from Jean-Dominique Bauby’s autobiography, which Mr. Bauby wrote after emerging from a catastrophic stroke a victim of “locked-in” syndrome, unable to move or speak. He was the villain opposite Daniel Craig in “Quantum of Solace.”

A slight, rumpled and intense man, he talks in spurts, as if puffing on the ghost of a cigarette. In this film, which is in competition this year at the Cannes Film Festival, he plays Joachim Zand, a producer who has promised Paris to his troupe. “Tournée,” with dialogue in English and French, travels from Le Havre to Nantes and La Rochelle, from gaudy hotel lobbies with canned music to desolate sand dunes, where the producer and his motley crew get bogged down.

“The movie is inspired by Colette’s memoir, ‘L’Envers du music-hall,’ about her adventures on tour,” Mr. Amalric said. “Colette was no feminist and we didn’t want to do a period piece, but I think that she went on stage looking for a kind of freedom.”

“Tournée” is the kind of comedy that makes you wince, as it reveals the women’s backstage lives, their humiliations and hidden stories. And in this rocky road movie, Mr. Amalric has created a nightmare part for himself as Joachim. A big-time TV producer, he has left his life in Paris and when he returns to seek old allies who promised a theater for his company to perform, he is greeted with contempt. You never discover why or what happened.

“As a big shot producer, he must have trod on a lot of feet and feelings,” the director said.
Mr. Amalric started in movies at 17, working for the producer Paulo Branco.

“My cinema Papa. I knew the great producers of the day — Paul Rassam, Claude Berri, and put pieces of them in Joachim and his friends. Only when I edited the film, did I see the violence in Joachim, how desperate he is.” He shudders.

Joachim is kicked off the stage and out of the theater by his best friend, played by François Bégaudeau, and by another old ally, played by the iconic producer Pierre Grimblat. “I’ve known Pierre forever, we’re even related, but we never figured out how,” he said.

Mr. Amalric, whose first feature, “Mange ta soupe” (1997), about a stifling family, unabashedly his own, had a rich childhood. His parents were journalists and he grew up in a house of books. His father, Jacques Amalric, Le Monde’s correspondent in Washington and then Moscow, took the family to America when Mathieu was five. His mother, Nicole Zand, is a literary critic.

“I named my character Joachim Zand in tribute to her family, wiped out in the Holocaust,” he said.

He went to nursery school in Washington, spoke English, and fell in love with the United States. “I go to New York whenever I can. I adored Moscow too.”

The Georgian director Otar Iosseliani, a friend of his parents, cast him in “Les favoris de la lune” (1984), his first part. “Otar gave me my love of filmmaking.”

Mr. Amalric lives on the run, film to film, in high gear. “It’s fabulous, this acting business.” He is in such demand that “Tournée” took years to make. “We started in 2002, but then I acted in some movies — ‘Kings and Queens,’ ‘Quantum of Solace,’ ‘Munich,’ ‘Conte de Noël.’ When we got the idea of the Frenchman who dreamed of America coming home to France, and the women on tour, dreaming of Paris, we knew we were on the right track. We avoided making the self-infatuated kind of French movie. When people say, ‘It doesn’t look like a French film,’ it’s supposed to be a big compliment.”

And yet, this is a film made on French soil and also about the world of French filmmakers. When Joachim is thrown out of the theater by his best friend, Mr. Amalric says he was inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s correspondence with François Truffaut. “Their fights sounded as stupid as my characters do; things like, ‘Your last movie, La nuit américaine, stank — can you lend me some dough?’ But it was a strong relationship. And these things happen; one day, you don’t even know what you’ve said — and you’ve lost your best friend for life. Talented people are terrible, they eat up those around them because, well, they have a job to do.”

Mr. Amalric labored over his script. “When you write, you have to know what happened before, how Joachim separated from his wife, how he found the girls. You have to know everything; otherwise your actors can’t play. That’s what a script is about.I wrote it with Philippe Di Folco and Marcelo Novais Teles.”

When you comment that in the final scenes, shot on the dunes of Île d’Oléron and in an abandoned hotel, the film feels very Fellini-esque, he smiles.

“Fellini said that writing a script is detective work, and the day you shoot, you write it down for good,” he said.

“It was a very happy shoot; the girls partied all night. And they’re excited about the festival. It’s the opposite of what happens in our movie. In the story, they were promised Paris, and got nothing. But in this story, they were promised nothing, and they’re all at Cannes, on the red carpet with Pierre Grimblat, my mother and the crew — there are about 40 of us.”

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