Film review: On Tour

France/Germany 2010

Film still for Film review: On Tour

Reviewed by Chris Darke


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

France, the present. Having returned after a long spell in the US, former TV producer Joachim Zand is touring an American striptease troupe around coastal towns. Leaving the troupe, he drives to Paris to organise a venue for the final date. He persuades his reluctant brother to arrange a meeting with an influential impresario; the meeting goes disastrously wrong, leaving Zand without the Paris performance he has promised the troupe. Zand picks up his two young sons and rejoins the tour; one of the boys goes missing and is picked up by the police. Driving to the last date, Zand rekindles a relationship with one of the performers, and the pair get lost en route. Finally, the troupe are reunited in an abandoned hotel in Bordeaux.


Few observers of the Young French Cinema of the 1990s could have guessed that one of its favourite actors would achieve such high visibility a decade or so later that he’d start appearing all over the place. At one point, it was unusual to see a French film that didn’t feature the puppyish charm of Mathieu Amalric in a lead or walk-on role. It soon became apparent that this was an actor with ambitions for an international career and he began to appear in increasingly prominent roles: a cameo in Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005); the lead in Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007); and, in Quantum of Solace (2008), playing the least menacing of Bond villains.

On top of which, the actor has also nurtured a parallel career as a director, making eight shorts since 1985 and three features since 2000, of which On Tour is the first in which he also takes the lead.

Amalric plays Joachim Zand, a former television producer who returns to France after a long sojourn in the US, shepherding a New Burlesque troupe on a tour of coastal towns with the promise of a finale in Paris. His performers, with stage names like ‘Dirty Martini’ and ‘Kitten on the Keys’, aren’t glossy Dita Von Teese-alikes but curvaceous and tattooed peroxide-blondes, and much of the film’s energy is generated by juxtaposing this riotous, good-hearted ensemble with the provincial settings and interchangeable hotels they pass through. In this, On Tour is not unlike Xavier Giannoli’s underrated The Singer (2006), in which Gérard Depardieu delivered one of his best performances in years as a faded chanteur working the small-town circuit in a study of the travails of showbiz life beyond the metropolis. And certain clichés of the ‘backstage movie’ are carefully observed: Zand as the harassed, chain-smoking impresario, constantly juggling a mobile phone and trying to keep the show on the road, with the troupe a surrogate family to replace his sundered relationship with his estranged wife and kids.

On Tour

On Tour has something to say about the formative dynamic that underlies all French popular culture, its love-hate relationship with America. ‘New Burlesque’ is, after all, an American import and Zand is a character whose exposure to the States has done nothing to improve his prospects in his native land; he fails spectacularly to call in favours from his successful TV-producer brother and ends up assaulting an influential elderly impresario. It’s hard not to interpret elements of the film as a parable, displaced on to the world of theatrical striptease, of the actor-director’s own place in French cinema, negotiating the somewhat hermetic and exclusive domain of auteur film and the energetic spectacle of American entertainment. Zand is also a tribute to the figure of the film producer as a tightrope walker. Amalric has stated that the character was partly inspired by the tragic example of buccaneering French producers Jean-Pierre Rassam and Humbert Balsam, who both worked themselves into early graves. The moustache the actor affects for the role is supposedly worn in homage to the unflagging Portuguese art-cinema producer Paolo Branco.

Such meta-cinematic concerns are carefully woven into the film’s overall structure, which is nicely episodic and incidentally dramatic, in keeping with the ‘if it’s Wednesday it must be Le Havre’ itinerary of its travelling players. Amalric’s handling of such a structure no doubt contributed to his best director award at the 2010 Cannes film festival and it’s here that many of the movie’s pleasures reside. When Zand takes off alone to set up the tour’s final date in Paris, there’s an encounter with a vivacious petrol-station cashier (Aurélia Petit) which touchingly evokes their shared en passant yearning. Likewise, when one of the Burlesque girls drags a sexually incompetent software salesman into a hotel toilet, a little Asian girl sitting outside overhears the heated tryst within and innocently wonders, “Are there animals in there?” And while all the performers get a turn in the film, they are often shot from backstage, with the foreground occupied by the chaotic bustle in the wings.

To see Amalric playing Joachim Zand it’s hard not to be reminded of Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), in which Ben Gazzara starred as strip-joint owner Cosmo Vitelli, a man who loved all his girls. While On Tour settles a little too easily in conclusion for the troupe-as-one-big-family cliché, and Amalric still looks rather too boyish to bring off the grizzled weariness necessary to make Zand completely believable, the film’s engaging confidence and inclusive good nature prove he’s worth watching both as an actor and a director.

See also

The Father of My Children reviewed by Ryan Gilbey (March 2010)

French Cinema Now: French Exceptions: Jonathan Romney considers the riches of French film talent we miss seeing in the UK (May 2008)

The Singer reviewed by Ginette Vincendeau (October 2007)

Alice et Martin reviewed by Chris Darke (December 1999)

Late August, Early September reviewed by Chris Darke (September 1999)


Directed by
Mathieu Amalric
Produced by
Laetitia Gonzalez
Yaël Fogiel
Mathieu Amalric
Philippe Di Folco
Marcelo Novais Teles
Raphaëlle Valbrune
Director of Photography
Christophe Beaucarne
Annette Dutertre
Art Director
Stéphane Taillasson
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011