HeyUGuys LogoI must admit that Mathieu Almaric’s Tournee largely sneaked under my radar prior to my arrival at the festival this week, but would most probably have made it on to my Highlights article in the run-up had I been more aware of it. You see, not only am I a huge admirer of Almaric as an actor: he was exceptional in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and was one of the only highlights of Quantum of Solace (the most ridiculous extended chase movie I have ever watched), I am also an avid fan of the wonderful artistic movement that is burlesque. So to have both on show in one feature, screening In Competition on the Croisette was understandably manna from heaven for the likes of me.

For anyone else who missed the official synopsis, it reads, deliciously, as follows:

Joachim, a former Parisian television producer had left everything behind- his children, friends, enemies, lovers and regrets- to start a new life in America. He comes back with a team of New Burlesque strip-tease performers whom Joachim has fed fantasies of a tour of France, or Paris.

Travelling from port to port, the curvaceous showgirls invent an extravagant fantasy world of warmth and hedonism, despite the constant round of impersonal hotels with their endless elevator music and the lack of money. The show gets an enthusiastic response from men and women alike.

But their dream of a tour culminating in a last grand show in Paris goes up in smoke when Joachim is betrayed by an old friend and loses the theatre where they were due to perform. A quick return journey to the capital violently reopens old wounds…

Tournee is chocked full of the hedonistic and the humorous, yet it is also a touching road movie that offers only a modicum of the redemption that usually sweetens that genre.

Mathieu AlmaricAlmaric is occassionally wonderful, typically, as washed up former TV producer Joachim Zand, a charming rogue who is both exploitative and caring of his troupe of exotic, enchanting dancers. Sadly he is not wonderful all the way through, which is also true of the wider film, flitting as it does from warm comic scenes that appear well accomplished, to apparently hastily half-improvised ones that should probably have been left to the editor’s floor in favour of more polished versions. The effect is an unfortunate lack of momentum which is almost fatal for the film overall.

It is the dancers themselves who steal the show. Playing caricatured versions of themselves, the girls are real burlesque performers when the camera is not trained on them, and their routines are shot beautifully and without prejudice, thankfully, by on-form cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne. With New Burlesque legends, Mimi Le Meaux, Kitten on the Keys, Julie Atlas Muz, Roky Roulette (one for the ladies), Eve Lovelle and the delectable and legendary Dirty Martini playing characters in Zand’s burlesque troupe, the delights for any fans will be enormous.

Dirty Martini

They are the humorous heart of the film, counterbalancing Joachim’s sometimes pathetic attempts to get his life in order out of the chaos he seems to create for himself, though in places the humour does descend a little too far into silliness. Worse though is the fact that the burlesque girls themselves are rather unforgivably underdeveloped as rounded characters, which robs the film of a greater sense of depth and the profundity it seems to aim at. Their emotions are portrayed in a rather stunted manner, and the one storyline that is given to a dancer (one has issues bearing her breasts to an audience, yet finds herself in a profession where it is a necessity) remains noticeably undeveloped or properly resolved. I have a sneaky feeling that Joachim’s recklessness and occasional scatter-brained tendencies were continued by Amalric into the director’s chair.

The film is a good watch, though it would have been better served by greater direction, both from the auteur and in terms of the narrative. Thank God for the redeeming scenes, otherwise I might have had to say something bad about a burlesque project. Now Im off to put on my disco pants and rabidly find the party hosted by Dita Von Teese somewhere around Cannes.