Irma Vep Reviews
But whereas the best movie about moviemaking ever made, François Truffaut's magnificent "Day for Night" (1973), brought a certain sort of romantic charm to the above mentioned cinematic chaos, Olivier Assayas's weirder "Irma Vep" (1996) conjoins New Wave imitating nonchalantness and blatant surrealism that makes it one of the most coercive films about filmmaking ever made. With one eye on industry satire and another on reality blurring fantasticality, Assayas's vision is broad but focused in its delivery. It's faux cinéma vérité that increasingly benefits from its unwillingness to conform.
Taking place in the mid-1990s, a time during which the French film industry was threatened with extinction due to the mounting popularity of North American action imports, "Irma Vep" follows the doomed production of "Les Vampires," a remake of Louis Feuillade's famed 1916 serial of the name. Helmed by René Vidal (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a has-been, growingly inept master of the silver screen, the feature is planned to be shot in the exact same style as the original series, photographed in black-and-white and produced as a silent movie for the modern age.
Everyone involved has accepted that 1996's "Les Vampires" is going to be a disaster, especially after Vidal proves to be even more temperamental than his reputation has suggested and especially after he inexplicably hires Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung (as herself) to play the film's heroine. See her in a catsuit, though, and your doubts melt away - it's Vidal's inability to keep his head on straight for more than thirty seconds that concerns us.
It'd all be very depressing if the tone Assayas were going for weren't so sardonic, but since his "Irma Vep" is so witty and so knowing, unavoidable is the being seduced by the film's cheeky self-referentiality. Pointed without being mean-spirited, it's scrumptious parody able to bring auteur culture back down to Earth all the while maintaining easygoing perceptiveness.
But because the film's so relaxed in its style and its brand of humor, watching it without trying to spot certain, specific studio jabs still warrants it as a lovable moviegoing experience. One doesn't have to much know about the French movie industry, the cult fanbase that circles around the original "Les Vampires," the career of the always luminous Maggie Cheung, or the homages to the New Wave (that Léaud himself was a seminal figure of) to appreciate Assayas's deconstruction of the filmmaking process. Blasé but cutting, "Irma Vep" is satire that prefers the stance of slice-of-life offhandedness to the going-for-the-throat mentality of "S.O.B." (1981), and that breeziness arguably makes it even sharper.
Maggie Maggie, how can you be this amazing?
20151026 @ Anthology.
Actress Maggie travels to France to star in a remake of an old movie. The movie is about the making of that movie, which never really pans out. It's interesting and Maggie is well suited to the role. I also enjoyed her relationship with Zoe. The "completed" movie at the end is interesting too.
Feuillade's films were both very French and yet universally appealing. LES VAMPIRES was not afraid of being entertaining for the sake of entertainment but it was also stylized and oddly erotic. And, Feuillade's work remains interestingly current in both look and plot. Assayas film captures a confused and chaotic film crew attempting to both please their director and push against him. The characters, including a particularly annoying TV Journalist, hold the production in contempt for several reasons: it is not commercial enough to make money, it is being made for the French Intelligentsia and more than a few feel it odd that the director has chosen an Asian actress (played with natural brilliance and beauty by Maggie Cheung) in an Iconic Role of French Cinema. As another filmmaker notes, why cast a Chinese woman to play a character who was created to represent The French Lower Class?
The film gives its final punch when we, along with the cast, see the small amount of edited footage created by the fictional director. The small bit of footage is inspiring, artistic, disturbing and something all together new -- and, yes, cool.
If you love Cinema, and you have a particular fondness for French Nouvelle Vague -- you will love Olivier Assayas slick and totally cool meditation of the state of French Cinema.
I'm not really sure what I saw. On the one hand, I see some clever satire about French film here, especially with the interviewer complaining about intellectual film in an intellectual film, Rene's mumblingly intense focus on process, and the costume designer using a bondage mask. On the other hand, I think one would have to know the history behind Les Vampires in order to be in on the joke, and I'm not sure what to make of the romance between Maggie and Zoe. And what is going one with Maggie Cheung playing herself? Once again, I feel like there's a reason for this choice, but it isn't communicated with any clarity.
Overall, I left this film confused and not in a good way.