“Create fiction, disorder and disobedience”
by Fabien Lemercier
- At a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, the French director answered questions from international journalists
What sparked your desire to make On Tour [+see also:
interview: Mathieu Amalric
interview: Mathieu Amalric
Mathieu Amalric: It all started with a book by Colette, Music-Hall Sidelights. She did some rather scandalous things for her time and I fell in love with the way she describes her life on tour. I was looking for an idea that would capture the spirit of this woman and I discovered Kitty Hartl, who set up the New Burlesque troupe and is actually Joachim in my film. These girls are infectious, they adopted me as they do in the film.
Which theme most appealed to you: A producer who has lost his way and rebuilds an adopted family, a film that meanders through provincial France or an ode to femininity?
There were endless echoes of many chaotic elements: a very good article about New Burlesque’s performance at the Zèbre [a concert hall in Paris], the suicide of producer Humbert Balsan, my fascination for the courage of producers, personal taste and the imaginary aspect of travellers who end up in a city full of sedentary people, the fact that now there are uniform (in thought, body and mind) people everywhere.
I felt that this would create fiction, disorder, disobedience and politics without having to convey a message. In the film, the girls took charge of all this through the beauty of their acts, which they completely invented themselves: the costumes, make-up and choreography. It says so much about them, each of them, in a different way. And there are two continents that fantasize about each other and a man who has certainly seen too many American films, who has been to the United States and plays with their fantasies of France and Paris.
You wrote, directed and starred in the film. Is it a personal portrait?
Originally, I wasn’t meant to act in the film. During the writing stage, we had some producers’ names in mind: Humbert Balsan, Jean-Pierre Rassam, Paolo Branco. But apparently, everyone knew I would end up playing the role, everyone except me. It was good being together in the same setting, for we could collaborate on fiction. I could immediately share things verbally, mention my doubts about the scene, the action. I was obsessed with action, with the fact that it isn’t a documentary, that the girls are characters with their own individual pasts. And there are moments when they respond magnificently, like in the train for example. There are only 17 minutes of show scenes in the film, the rest of the time they’re actresses.
How did you maintain the balance between the sad, solitary moments, and the upbeat, group scenes?
There were two parts to the shoot: five weeks in provincial France with the troupe and one-and-a-half very sad weeks, for the girls were no longer there and we were shooting very violent scenes, with children at the hospital, with Damien Odoul. But it’s also part of the work on the screenplay. So that Joachim’s return to the group is intense, I felt he had to have been through a little moment of hell.
Could it be said that All That Jazz influenced On Tour?
That’s exactly right. I was wondering which French actor could play Joachim. I showed my producers Roy Scheider in the first scene of All That Jazz, that casting where he is both obnoxious and irresistible. Then, to have the pleasure of playing this character, I told myself that Joachim sees himself as Ben Gazzara and I decided to work on my own shyness, on my admiration for the way the girls manage to transform everything into desire and celebration, and on my character’s flaws, which are the source of his aggressiveness.