Monday, January 31, 2011
Mathieu Amalric's Tournée, about a producer taking a group of American neo-burlesque performers on tour in his native France, has quite an unusual cast. Dirty Martini, a large and commanding woman who carries her rolls of voluptuous fat with great confidence, is played by the famed burlesque dancer Dirty Martini. Same goes for the rest of the women; Mimi Le Meaux, Kitten on the Keys, Evie Lovelle, Julie Atlas Munz, and Roky Roulette, are all well known practitioners of this emerging art form. And after seeing this movie I do think neo-burlesque qualifies as some sort of art-form. As skeptical as I had been about the feminist message that's supposed to be behind the G-strings and spinning tassels, the shows that these ladies put on really do celebrate the female body. There's a good deal of visual playfulness in their acts, which are often more funny or touching than titillating.
Much of the movie is spent with the girls--naughty antics and touching moments come in equal measure both onstage and off--but where they fiercely claim independence for their performances ("this is our show!"), the movie is really their producer, Joachim's show. Where the dancers are big, loud, and usually cheerful, Joachim, played to perfection by Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), is thin and a little louche; in one of the first scenes we see him pocketing a little bit more than his fair share from the night's proceeds. Joachim is beset by a slew of seemingly conventional problems--estranged children and ex-wife, old friends that he pissed off and who don't want to give him the time of day-- which provide enough conflict without weighing the movie down. There's a redemption story here, and there are some intimations of actual redemption, but given that this is a French movie, it's no surprise that ambiguity trumps resolution and easy life lessons.When Joachim's sons show up for a few days, they sit around the dressing room surrounded by nubile dancers, get picked up by the police when they leave their hotel room at night, and are sent back by train to Paris as planned the next morning, all with so little drama involved that the film's attitude could pass for nonchalance.
There is indeed a matter-of-factness with which the film greats everything from jiggling breasts and quickies in public toilets to Joachim's encounter with a cancer stricken friend. But by not attaching too much importance to any one conflict and by preventing structure from getting in the way of a rather loose narrative, Amalric creates space for people to emote. Perhaps more than with any other film, I was aware of what the characters were feeling at any moment, or of a feeling that I could attribute to them and identify with.
Whether this also has anything to do with the fact that I'm an uprooted american dealing with unfamiliar territory, I don't know, but I do like the way French and American sensibilities collide here, how Showgirls was able to hook up with Pierrot le Fou. Tournée can be slow and ponderous while being free-spirited and exuberant, and it's able to deal with disappointment and uncertainty without being glum. Everyone here, especially Joachim and Mimi, who's given special attention as someone who's had her own troubled past, is caught in his or her own existential dilemma--they're trying to find their way in life, trying to find out how they fit in. Being comfortable with your body, capable of stripping in front of a crowd, is undoubtably part of this attempt, even if it doesn't solve everything. Still, sometimes the only thing you can do is shed some clothes and let those tassles fly.
8.5 Best French movie of the year (2010 that is).