Hong Kong action diva Maggie Cheung (Ashes of Time Redux, In the Mood for Love) plays herself in haute auteur Olivier Assayas’ spiky satire of the French film industry. After seeing her in Johnny To’s cult-actioner Heroic Trio, past-his-prime director René Vidal (New Wave legend Jean-Pierre Léaud) impetuously casts Cheung as the lead in his remake of the silent classic Les Vampires. Unable to speak a word of French and clad in a head-to-toe rubber catsuit, Cheung finds herself adrift among the disorganized crew—including an increasingly erratic Vidal, a lovesick bi-sexual costumer (Nathalie Richard) and a gossipy executive’s wife (Bulle Ogier). With freewheeling cinematography choreographed to the strains of Sonic Youth and Luna, Irma Vep immerses the viewer into the heady desperation and l’amour fou of modern movie-making. –Zeitgeist Films
In the ’90s Olivier Assayas emerged as one of the key figures in the new generation of French filmmakers. As a former critic for Cahiers du Cinema and a die-hard cinephile, he makes his films both personal and referential to the works of directors that he adores. His father was a director/screenwriter in the 1940s who later worked mainly for TV. When it was increasingly difficult for him to work because of a health condition, Olivier started to help him, first merely as a secretary, and then ghostwriting a few screenplays for the Maigret TV series. In the late 1970s he joined the team of influential film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, that once launched the French New Wave. While working for Cahiers he wrote essays on his favorite European filmmakers, Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and published extensive studies on American horror films and Hong Kong Cinema (the latter came out long before Hong Kong cinema became fashionable with Western filmgoers and critics). He collaborated… read more
More than as a satire of the French film industry, I enjoyed the film for its distanced study of the alienation of a foreigner. Assayas's touch is deft and composed but he has been better elsewhere, especially in Carlos. Nevertheless, the necklace scene was painterly in its execution and is the best moment in the film.
Cutting look at French cinema, against a Les Vampires remake by Léaud (in his pejorative career autumn). So too collaborative disarray, pop couture (Vampires’ attire based on Pfeiffer’s Catwoman), auteur theory megalomania, Francophobe cinephilia (revering Woo, JCVD), Dziga Vertov’s fossils, Feuillade’s Gaumont belittled - much to the bemused Cheung, nominally herself while inheriting Musidora’s Irma Vep. An acute portrait: the undercuts sly, before the apocalyptic ending, amidst Assayas’ postmodern images, sounds; slick too.
Senses of Cinema editor Rolando Caputo, summing up the gist of Murray Pomerance's essay on Second Life, notes that, for those who live there
"In The Father of My Children French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve makes something oddly beautiful and complex from a basic comic template
If anyone has checked out this blog recently, you’ll see I’ve been making a lot of comparisons between movies. This one is no exception. Olivier Assayas’s ‘Irma Vep’ feels like the french/arthouse… read review