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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
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Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
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On Tour (Mathieu Amalric, 2010)
A traveling troupe of burlesque dancers grows into a surrogate family, of sorts, in Mathieu Amalric’s rambling On Tour. This shaggy dog story about a group of American performers on a low-rent tour around the outskirts of France offers a series of passing pleasures but fails to cohere into a meaningful whole. In it a group of (real-life) American burlesque dancers with names like Dirty Martini and Mimi Le Meaux head to France, eager to conclude with a big show in Paris. Unfortunately, as the story begins, it becomes apparent that Joachim (Amalric), their somewhat questionable manager, might not be capable of securing their dream gig. Like most backstage dramas, On Tour generates as much energy behind the scenes as in front of them. Unlike most films of this type, though, that’s not saying very much.
On Tour repeatedly proposes the burlesque troupe as a family unit. Amalric cuts from a scene in which Joachim lays in bed with his brother to one of two girls from the troupe in bed together. Another edit takes us from a meal among the dancers to a family meal with Joachim and his children. These parallels are continually belabored up until Joachim’s concluding speech about family. Much of On Tour’s run time sees Joachim being systematically rejected by his brother, father, and children (we learn that his wife left him much earlier). The determinism of these overscripted scenes undermines the rowdy, improvised feel that drives the rest of the movie.
Though these dancers are selling glamour, their lives on the road, mostly spent shuttling from one hotel to the next, are anything but glamorous. They are a boisterous bunch (as one would expect in a French film about Americans), but they are largely self-sufficient. Joachim may be their manager, but they would likely manage just fine without him. In a press interview we learn that this troupe is part of an empowered “New Burlesque” movement, made by women for women, further jeopardizing Joachim’s status as their supposed patriarch.
On Tour initially promises to be a raucous ride, but somewhere along the way it begins to strain for significance and energy starts to flag. The marginalization of the women who should be the film’s prime attraction is troublesome, turning this into something of a vanity project for Amalric. His performance, which grows increasingly frenzied as the film wears on, begins to feel like it belongs to a different film. When set off against the minor backstage hijinks involving the women in the troupe (e.g. one is too shy to go nude on stage), the movie becomes lopsided. Ultimately, the best parts of On Tour are misshapen. The stage production, which we only get brief glimpses of, seems not to add up to a cohesive show. The same can be said for this film, which has its best moment in a sweet but entirely discursive scene set at a gas station where Joachim flirts with a female attendant.