Interview with Mathieu Amalric: Winner of the Best Director Prize at Cannes 2010 For “Tournee”/”On Tour”

August 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Mathieu Amalric discusses what it was like to direct and star in “Tournee” or “On Tour”, how the idea came about, and what it feels like to have won such a coveted award.  

Brief synopsis of “Tournee”/”On Tour”: “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 returns to France with a team of New Burlesque strip-tease performers whom he has filled with romantic dreams of a tour of France, of Paris!  Traveling from town to town, despite the cheap hotel rooms and lack of money, the curvaceous showgirls invent an extravagant fantasy world of warmth and hedonism that wins an enthusiastic response from men and women alike. 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 theater where they were due to perform.”

Q: Sharon Abella: Tell us what it was like to direct and star in the film?

A: Mathieu Amalric: “It was not my idea to star in the film.  Many suggested that I star in the film, but I did not want to. I was looking for another actor. Three weeks before the shooting, the producer, and the Director of Photography, said, ‘you have to star in the film’, but I said, ‘No, I don’t want to. I want to direct.’  However, three weeks before the shooting, I said, ‘I guess I have to do it.’  There was a complexity of fiction, of drama, we were able to institute this from the inside, to make surprises, to make a movie that works. It came together.”

Q: Sharon Abella:  How did the idea come about?

A: Mathieu Amalric: “At the beginning of the film it was very solitary, very small. I read, Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette, the French author, for many years. It was sort of a diary of her life as an actress on tour with musicals, where she would do sort of a naked pantomime. She would describe a sort of freedom, and fatigue and a sense of being a misfit and independent at that moment. She had fallen in love with another woman, and there was a sense of freedom. I was looking for that spirit today in strip tease, and I couldn’t find it. One day, I saw an article about American New Burlesque, and some photographs, and there was an immediate connection. It was as if Collette were still alive today. When one of the women from the American New Burlesque told me that one of their daughters was Collette, something happened. It was very humorous. The girls talk not with words, but with their bodies. Most are trying to find a perfect body type. The fact that these girls don’t have a perfect body type, is interesting in itself. That’s how it started.”

Q: Sharon Abella: Do any of the dancers have formal training?

A: Mathieu Amalric: “They all have very different training.  A few of them studied classical, or  contemporary dance at ‘The Julliard School’.   Dirty Martini, played by Linda Marraccini, and Julie, both come from classical dance training. One girl worked in punk rock before and she learned how to play piano in church. Mimi, comes from San Diego, and works in informatics, and she fell in love with the 1950’s.  They all have different stories, but they are all incredibly professional.  For instance, before doing a show, they have to warm up. The warm up is quite impressive. They really prepare themselves like artists, like dance artists. Then they can have fun. They are very professional, and are very precise with their props.”

Q: Sharon Abella: Talk about the strong personalities of the American Burlesque dancers.  They didn’t seem to want a man controlling where they performed and how much they got paid. 

Quotes from film: “We make a show for women, we make our own numbers, men no longer control it, we entertain the masses, it’s like playing dress up.”

A: Mathieu Amalric: “I didn’t know that new burlesque existed before. I was looking for something that could resonate well. I wanted a sort of tension between the manager and independent women. At the beginning of the film, the tour manager character, Joachim, played by me, didn’t even look at the dancers, he was more worried if the young girl would be able to take off her bra. At the same time, by the end of the film, the women sort of adopted and accepted Joachim, and the fact that he is part of the tour. They accept the fact that a man is watching their work.”

Q: Sharon Abella: The tour manager appears as a genuinely nice guy, but seems misunderstood. Do you agree? Talk about Joachim.

A: Mathieu Amalric: “I think that the girls finally accept him, they begin to see that he has a heart, that he is honest with them, and they begin to believe in him. When you see Joachim struggling in Paris to find a theater where they can perform. He takes risks, confronts his enemies, and shows a love for the woman in the hospital.  The women must feel that, even if they aren’t aware of it. They must feel that he has difficulties. They must feel that their spirit has contaminated him a little.  At the end of the film, Mimi says, “You can sit now”, “Relax”. 

Q: Sharon Abella: The challenges you faced making the film.

A: Mathieu Amalric: “It was like paradise to shoot this film. We had women producers, Laetitia Gonzalez, and Yael Fogiel, and we did a real tour. We shot in the hotels where the girls were really living. A complicity happened. This is fiction, and not to be confused with a documentary. I fell in love with these women immediately, and wanted to film their real lives, but ultimately, had to return to the script.  We wrote a lot.  I would wake up very early in the morning, to be certain that the scenes were written about characters in action and not their real life personalities.  This was a big challenge. It’s strange, but a perfect script is a script that you have to hide when you shoot. That you don’t feel when you see the film, that is hidden. That was a big challenge. I wanted the information to be discovered in the present.  I wanted it to be a surprise. Oh, he wasn’t a tv producer, oh, he has children. Like the audience watching, I wanted it to be a surprise. This was actually a lot of work.”

Q: Sharon Abella: What does winning the best director prize at Cannes 2010 mean for you?

A: Mathieu Amalric: “It’s the most beautiful present. It’s as if the most intimate present had been given to me, because it tells something about how I fell in love with this project. I just wanted to direct films, working as an actor, was something others saw in me,  I wasn’t aware of it. I worked as an assistant director, assistant editor, props, all those jobs, and that’s why the stage was like coming back home, it’s sort of a natural place on a set. It was very moving for all of us. That’s why I wanted the women to come with me on stage, and if the crew had been there also. Directing, is very solitary, but at certain moments, you don’t know who is directing the film, ideas come from everywhere, from the editing, from the props man, from the actors. Directing it’s sort of being a film star that can combine all of the roles together.”

Q: Sharon Abella: You have joined the long list of acclaimed directors at Cannes. How does that feel?

A: Mathieu Amalric: “It is very exciting, but also very scary, because it’s like if it was a little death. Before, I was never thinking what would be the next film, you just film what you have in mind, and now you are afraid, but what can I do now. I am going to try not to feel pressured.”

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