Directed by Mathieu Amalric
Written by Mathieu Amalric, Philippe Di Folco, Marcelo Novais Teles & Raphaëlle Valbrune
France – 2010
A staple of French Cinema for almost two decades, in recent years Mathieu Amalric has gained international success due to his performance in the wildly successful Julian Schnabel film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as well as making his mainstream Hollywood debut as the creepy and neurotic villain in Quantum of Solace. When his first feature directorial effort, Tournée, premiered at Cannes earlier this year, it was a smash, earning him the award for best direction. Tournée opens at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema on Friday, and Amalric not only directs but stars as Joaquim, former French television producer who has assembled an American Burlesque troupe and tours France in hopes of regaining lost prestige.
The rock and roll atmosphere betrays the understated true nature of Tournée. Though consistently buzzing (the characters are constantly at the edge of great success, anger or passion) there is something wonderfully subdued about the conflict of this film. Perhaps it’s because Joaquim is so elusive. We understand that he has been yearning to get back to France, but the reasons are not quite clear. Though he briefly returns to the television studio, meets up with his more or less estranged children and works to succeed on the circuit with his unique “American” show: there is no indication that he finds any solace in any of these pursuits. His frustration bleeds into every situation he finds himself in, and in a way, it is what is holding him back from whatever it is he is looking for.
What is so fascinating is that, characteristically, his make-up keeps him from finding any long-term satisfaction. His personality is disruptive and frustrating, and he is more or less doomed to bring upon his own downfall again and again. The film is not particularly melancholic or angry, though – on the contrary it is vibrant, electric and even heartwarming. These moments are appropriately fleeting, but there is no tragedy in the fact that happiness is so easily lost or forgotten. This is most evident in the film’s final scene, which is open-ended – almost anti-climactic, then again so is life itself.
The burlesque sequences are incredibly inventive, and some of the film’s highlights. Off stage, the performers are just as evocative. They are vivacious and their performances seem impossibly candid. Their feminine and sexual identities are incredibly complex, and there is a constant battle with Joaquim over control of their acts. More importantly, they bring much needed vulnerability to the film. Their presence is dynamic; not only in terms of their larger-than-life personas, but on a purely visual level they are compelling and unique to watch.
Tournée is quite easily one of the year’s best, and shows a huge amount of potential for Amalric’s directorial career. His hand is sure, and his passion for the material is infused in every frame. The film manages to be consistently surprisingly, offering some of the year’s most memorable images and laughs. So far, it is the film to beat.