Mathieu Amalric: from Bond to burlesque

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
It is Mathieu Amalric's fourth full-length film as a director

It's always the way. You wait years for a film about burlesque and then two come along at once.

The first is Mathieu Amalric's On Tour (Tournée), for which he won the best director prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Amalric is best known internationally for his turn as Bond villain Dominic Greene in 2008's Quantum of Solace.

As well directing, Amalric appears in On Tour as Joachim - a former Parisian TV producer who takes a troupe of strip-tease performers from the US on a French tour.

The second burlesque film this month is, by contrast, a Hollywood musical - titled Burlesque - and starring Cher and Christina Aguilera.

Image caption,
The film stars Miranda Colclasure as Mimi Le Meaux

"Of course I want to see it," says Amalric from his hotel on a wintry London afternoon just before he takes the train to Paris. "I hope it's like Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls film that plays on the genre. We'll see."

He describes New Burlesque as "a private discovery". The film's inspiration was a book by a former performer Colette about her music hall experiences in the early 20th century.

But stuck with a script that was "too nostalgic", Amalric chanced upon an article about New Burlesque and went to see a group of real performers in Nantes, Italy. It was an experience that helped him translate his ideas to a modern setting.

Dirty Martini

The film sees Amalric's character attempting to lead the curvaceous showgirls on a tour of French port towns while he deals with assorted problems in his own private life.

The burlesque artists are played by genuine performers including Mimi Le Meaux, Kitten on the Keys and Dirty Martini.

To capture the energy of live performance, Amalric put on a genuine burlesque tour of French port cities and filmed the performers each night.

"You can imagine if they had done it only for the camera," he says. "It would have been so artificial, so we immediately had this idea about doing a real tour.

"We offered a free show and the audience reacted as they would at a real show. It lent an urgency to the filming. It was magical."

Image caption,
The film looks at life behind the scenes on a burlesque show

The film has a documentary feel at times, especially behind the scenes at the shows, but Amalric maintains the burlesque dancers were "always actresses" on camera.

"It was a lot of work to get that documentary feeling, but everything was written. To grab that you have to write a lot."

Amalric had never planned to act in the film himself but six weeks before the shoot, his chosen actor was late for a technical screen test, so Amalric stood in.

"When we saw the screen tests everybody said okay - it's you! They were always joking about me acting in it, but I was sick of acting at that time because I had acted too much."

Amalric is best known outside France as an actor (including his role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), but On Tour is his fourth film as director.

Stunt man

How much did his role in Quantum of Solace change people's perceptions of him?

"It depends what you want to do with it. If you want to be famous and make money I could have - it's not very complicated. I refused films afterwards. Or you can take it as a surprise of life, a great joke, a wonderful experience."

Amalric refers to a fight scene in On Tour in which he is sent crashing through a door and lands heavily on a pavement.

"I could never have done that if I had not worked on the James Bond stunts. We did it by ourselves. We didn't need a stuntman. I learned that sort of stuff.

"It's like having several lives - some people talk to me on the street because they saw James Bond, some because they saw On Tour..."

He casually adds that Bond movie producer Michael G Wilson had come to see On Tour on the previous day. "We didn't talk Bond at all..."

On Tour opens in selected cinemas on Friday 10 December, and is also available via the Curzon On Demand service.

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