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Film

New Burlesque @ Nouveau Cinéma

Posted by Carolyn / October 23, 2010

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A motley crew of six saucy American neo-burlesque performers and their rather slight French producer head out on tour through the port cities of France in Tournée, a dark comedy directed by and starring Mathieu Amalric. An unconventional road film with a cast of colorful characters, Tournée premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to considerable critical acclaim, winning the prestigious FIPRESCI award and earning Amalric Best Director. I chatted with Amalric about his inspirations--notably burlesque, Fellini, and empty hotels--on the red carpet at The Imperial for Tournée's opening at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema last night.

Alamric drew inspiration for the film from Colette's 1913 memoirs L'Envers du Music-Hall, a chronicle of her experiences in the music halls of Paris in the early 20th century. After reading an article about Neo-burlesque--a revivalist movement that took off in the 90s to bring the spirit of vaudeville to a new generation of performers--he immediately drew a parallel to Colette's work and decided to adapt her story to a modern setting.

"Before I fell upon New Burlesque... I was really lost and almost abandoned the film," says Amalric. "But when I met these women, I found burlesque to be a good reaction to the obligation that we all have today to have perfect bodies and all be the same. I found their anger and their way of using their bodies and their spirit and their humor as a means of saying something about politics to be more contagious than words alone."

The film follows Joachim Zand (played by Amalric) and burlesque troupe--comprised of New Burlesque performers Mimi Le Meaux, Dirty Martini, Kitten on the Keys, Julie Atlas Muz, Roky Roulette, and Evie Lovelle--as they embark on a journey down the French coastline, stopping in port cities where they stay in cheap hotels and perform wildly popular shows each night. Formerly a successful television producer in Paris, Joachim can't escape his past--which includes two kids, enemies, and old debts--when he returns to his homeland on tour with the performers. The girls are enamoured with the promise of ending their trip with a grand performance in Paris until Joachim loses the venue that they were to perform at because of old conflicts that rise again to the surface with his return.

Witnessing the proudly Rubenesque women of the troupe perform brazen musical numbers and stripteases--which were performed in front of real audiences during the film's production--is the great pleasure of watching Tournée. Mimi defines the girls' mission as "women doing shows for women"--through song, dance, and stripping, New Burlesque takes back women's sexuality by refusing to adhere to societal standards of beauty and celebrating the female body in all its forms. These charismatic women are unapologetically fleshy, curvaceous, and boldly sexual, strutting their stuff on the stage as a challenge to contemporary ideals of beauty and femininity.

Almaric proves himself not just as a brilliant director, but, almost more notably, as a wildly talented actor. Amalric's portrayal of Joachim is touching and nuanced, bringing a raw truth and sensitivity to the film, particularly in his interactions with Mimi. Joachim's mounting desperation is beautifully juxtaposed with the tireless joie de vivre of his performers, who take him under their wing and offer the promise of redemption.
Alamric explains that the character of Joachim was inspired by producers for whom I worked a lot when I was younger as an assistant and an assistant editor in movies. "Joaquim was inspired by producers who took risks," says Amalric.

To write the character of Joachim, Amalric used some of his own characteristics and fears as fodder for the creation of a desperate and discontented man. "When you do films, you're able to work on your worst nightmares. You try to write things that you don't do in real life. I exaggerated a lot with this character."

In a nod to Fellini, the film ends with a surrealist flair. "I didn't think about it consciously, but it's true that it looks like the end of La Dolce Vita. That is an absolutely desperate ending. This one is less desperate than La Dolce Vita, because everyone forgets that in La Dolce Vita, there's a professor that kills his children and commits suicide. Here, the girls adopt him," says Amalric.

After getting lost for several days, the troupe is reunited in their last venue--an abandoned hotel next to the sea and sand dunes. "We found this hotel, we fell on that place and it was so, ahh, that empty place. It almost could be Big Sur, in California. You feel things that inspire you and this empty hotel really inspired me."

Amalric's innovative fusion of a road movie narrative, burlesque shows, and dark comedy makes for a unique and captivating film-going experience. Check out Tournée before it hits commercial theatres on November 5 at Excentris Theatre on Sunday at 4:15 for the film's last performance as part of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Image: Courtesy of Parismatch.com

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