Irma Vep
IRMA VEP. 1996
Director: Olivier Assayas

Director: Louis Feuillad

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Les Vampires Irma Vep (1996) is about a film crew remaking the French cliffhanger silent serial Les Vampires (1915).

The original has all the faults of serials, redundancy & extreme tedium primarily. Each chapter has a macabre title like "Satanus" & "The Thunder Master," but it's a crime serial, not a vampire tale. The anti-heroine Irma (Musidora, the Theda Bera of France) is a master thief who dresses up like a bat.

In every chapter something interesting will happen, though it's apportioned one interesting thing at a time & you gotta plod onward to reach the next chapter before there's any chance of something else of interest happening. Ten chapters & well over seven hours long, it just goes on & on with its nonsensical happenings.

Les VampiresDespite that it is hard to view today as more than an historical relic, the "look" of Irma in costume is just timelessly fabulous. That fact alone enough to make the serial an influential masterpiece.

Anyone who just happens to really like silly old serials should find this one as exciting as the best of them & considerably better than most.

Adjust one's expectation of timing, there's a lot of imagination, moments of suspense, comedy interludes from Marcel Levesque, plus real locations around Paris, all of which can make the weight of all that padding tolerable.

Remaking such a hoary old macabre crime serial would seem to be a very great folly, as indeed it turns out to be. The director of the intended remake, playing himself, has hired Chinese beauty Maggie Cheung to recreate the role of the fetish-costumed cat burglar.

Irma Vep The name Irma Vep is of course an anagram for Vampire, but the word is meant in the sense of a Vamp, i.e., a silent film femme fatale. And while the original Irma did dress up like a winged bat, Maggie's Irma wears a black latex suit reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992).

The main French cast is acting out a satire on the naval-gazing pomposity of so much that calls itself Independent Cinema. But Maggie Cheung is doing something else, something ever so much more exciting to see.

Putting on her costume has an effect on Maggie, altering her usually quiet demeanor. She doesn't want to stop wearing the latex suit but has to take it home with her. Unbeknownst to the other cast members, she's soon climbing over rooftops & becoming truly Irma Vep.

The excuse might be "getting into character" but clearly something liberating is happening to Maggie while the film crew & actors experience their own private hells of self-importance.

Irma VepA lot of the film feels unscripted. It has this disorderly mixed-up feeling in order to really capture how chaotic filmmaking can become.

This aspect of the film would probably delight the cynic in anyone who ever thought they'd like to be an independent filmmaker. But I felt it was a mess at times, & often patience-testing.

Yet I was transfixed every minute Maggie was on screen. She's playing the true outsider nationally & emotionally. The mere fact of being the only one who is different can be the definition of madness, so she keeps to herself her sorties into the real world as Irma Vep.

As an aside, Maggie fell in love with director Olivier "lucky bastard" Assayas during the filming of Irma Vep & moved to Paris, eventually marrying Olivier, & did several European films. The marriage didn't last, though their friendship persisted after the 1998-2001 marriage dissolved.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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