Sadly the most enjoyable thing about On Tour (Tournée), directed by and starring Mathieu Amalric, was hearing The Harry Lime Theme on the radio as I drove home. Although it wasn’t so bad that I regretted going – I may have been more resentful had it been a beautiful summer’s evening rather than a damp January one – I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to friends.
The story of a group of US new-burlesque dancers on tour in France with their producer, Joachim Zand (Amalric), Tour did contain some positives. Amalric is intensely watchable even, or perhaps particularly, with a dodgy haircut and moustache (Robbie Collin in the News of the World memorably described his look as ‘a pimp Oompa Loompa’). His beautiful suits though didn’t seem to quite match: a bona fide sharp-dressed man, perhaps he just couldn’t bring himself to wear an ill-fitting one.
It’s also heartening to see womens’ bodies as they rarely appear in mainstream films, with a cheering lack of silicone and in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interviewed in the Guardian, Amalric spoke of how the film is ‘struggling against perfection… If I’m Dita Von Teese of course I can be naked, but if I’m me?’ A line that is echoed in the film when Mimi Le Meaux (Miranda Colclasure), one of the more experienced dancers, explains the difficulties of a colleague not yet ready to strip, ‘you have to love your body first’.
Along the way, too, there are some beautifully composed shots and a richly sensuous use of colour, and I enjoyed Zand’s battles against muzak. Like the use of women’s bodies, it seemed to hint at a political subtext: that of corporate control and power, and an attendant abnegation of personal responsibility. However, although I adored the energy of the final shot, overall I’m afraid I didn’t see the point. The hints about Joachim’s past felt tagged on and ultimately we didn’t care. Other parts were just plain puzzling: I’m still not clear about the purpose of the scene where a supermarket cashier, inspired by the show, attempts to strip off in front of Joachim and Mimi and then, when they stop her, hurls Joachim’s shopping at him.
Joachim’s visit to an ex-lover in hospital was similarly unsatisfying. I appreciate that the film plays with the links between female identity, their bodies and appearance and perhaps even psychoanalytic theories of the gaze, but the fact she was recovering from a mastectomy felt forced. In the end I was left slightly bemused by Amalric’s best director award at Cannes. In the Guardian, he confessed he had worried On Tour ‘was going to be boring for the audience’ which I’m afraid I think it was. While I respect the intellectual framework, as entertainment it didn’t cut the mustard and as a director Amalric, a self-confessed ladies’ man, failed to seduce.