In recent years, Cannes’s opening-night films have tended to the high-profile and big-budget, flashy productions (often, but not always, American) that will soon turn up in multiplexes and have no real place at a film festival putatively devoted to art. But they bring in big names and bigger headlines, and carry with them a whiff of glamour and prestige that remains even when the film in question is lousy. Which, this year, it is.
Thanks to early screenings and Internet embargo-breakers, most of what there’s to be said about Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood already has been. It’s an origin story—clearly designed to launch a franchise—that reimagines the mythical bandit as an intense, steel-eyed hero miles removed from Errol Flynn’s playful outlaw. It’s an approach right out of Christopher Nolan’s Batman playbook, but, lacking Nolan’s ambition and intelligence, Scott succeeds only in proving that Flynn had the right idea from the start.
For a summer action movie, this one is almost completely joyless, seemingly having been designed with the express purpose of removing from the myth everything that makes it enjoyable. What remains is drab, visually monotonous (this is Robin Hood, brought to you by the color gray), and dramatically inert. Excepting the climactic battle sequence, Scott doesn’t even have the courtesy to load the film with set pieces; it’s dominated by dull political intrigue, all the better for making lazy connections to present-day affairs. (As with The Dark Knight, it seems likely that windbags from both sides of the aisle will try to claim it for themselves. I can see it now: “Was Robin Hood the first Tea Partier?” No. Shut up.) I admit to taking a perverse pleasure in the Cannes Film Festival opening with a movie in which all the villains parlent français, but it’s still a plodding bore. It may not be reasonable to expect art from Cannes’s opening films, but if they’re going to be hollow, shouldn’t they at least be fun?
Significantly more enjoyable, if not exactly a slam dunk, is On Tour, the fourth film by actor Mathieu Amalric and, from the look of things, one of the very few light-hearted films in competition. As the only professional actor in a cast of amateurs, Amalric stars as Joachim, a washed-up television producer who, after leaving his life in Paris for the United States, returns home for a cross-country tour with a burlesque troupe. Joachim takes the troupe, played by actual burlesque performers with stage names like Kitten on the Keys and Dirty Martini, to show after show in towns along the coast (amusingly, the outline of their travel path resembles a bare breast). Joachim serves only as the ladies’ manager (when he tries to give them performance notes, they reject his advice), but they form a ramshackle surrogate family that—wait for it—comes to stand in for the actual family Joachim left behind. When the venue for the troupe’s planned grand finale in Paris pulls out, he must return to the capital to find another; while there, he reunites with his young children, an ex-lover, and various other people from his past.
Amalric takes a casual approach to doling out narrative information, leaving much to suggestion and saving the “surprise” of Joachim’s kids until admirably late in the game. But as these things start to pile up, it becomes increasingly difficult for Amalric to hide the fact that the whole thing adds up to little more than yet another story about the importance of family. Not that he really tries all that hard to disguise it, given how explicitly he ends up pounding the theme home.
Still, On Tour remains a largely pleasurable experience thanks to Amalric’s firm grasp of moments and incidental details. As in his acting, Amalric shows a predilection for the eccentric aside, little bits of business that seem like goofy throwaways but still ring true and enhance the film’s lived-in texture. Moment to moment, On Tour is consistently amusing and well-observed, be it Amalric defusing a rather tense rehearsal scene by staging it with two characters playing badminton in the background, or Joachim’s son holding a phone to his father’s ear so he can talk and eat simultaneously. In one especially lovely sequence, Joachim flirts with a gas station attendant waiting to be picked up by her boyfriend.
Amalric (in typically fine acting form as well) locates, through a few lines of dialogue and expressive gestures, a brief moment of connection between two lonely people. It’s an exceptional scene (by far the best in the movie, both playful and incredibly sexy), but it doesn’t really connect with anything around it. Without a worthwhile base on which to build all these disparate moments, On Tour never entirely coheres. It’s pleasant, to be sure, and I recommend it without hesitation, but it’s also something of a trifle.