Irma Vep

A deliciously knowing satire of bad behaviour in the fabulous world of movie-making.
Director: Olivier Assayas
Year: 1996
Country: France
Running time: 98 mins
Producer: Georges Benayoun
Screenplay: Olivier Assayas
Photography: Eric Gautier
Art director: François-Renaud Labarthe
Editor: Luc Barnier
Sound: Philippe Richard
In French with English subtitles

Maggie Cheung
Jean-Pierre Léaud
Nathalie Richard
Antoine Basler
Nathalie Boutefeu
Alex Descas

Festivals: Cannes, Toronto, New York 1996; Rotterdam, San Francisco 1997
“THE AGONY AND the ecstasy of making a movie isn’t the freshest croissant in the café but Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep sure makes it seem so. This latest feature by the 42-year-old festival-god was shot in Super 16, like an on-set documentary... it’s a jagged, speedy rap fueled by cigarettes, coffee, and insomnia.

“A wry and witty piece of work, Irma Vep puts business first, holds the art for last, and keeps stardom at centre screen. Hong Kong action diva Maggie Cheung descends, straight from a 12-hour flight, into a churning maelstrom of production-assistant hysteria. Cheung, known as Maggie and essentially playing herself, has arrived in Paris to take the title role of the black-clad cat burglar Irma Vep in a remake of Louis Feuillade’s 1915 serial Les Vampires. The original cult film, a baroquely paranoid tale of criminal conspiracy, is to be updated, with some trepidation, by René Vidal, a burnt-out new wave auteur (Jean-Pierre Léaud)....

“Maggie is enthusiastic, hardworking, modest and – never less than professional – somewhat baffled by the backbiting antics of her French colleagues. At the same time, as she is poured into her latex bondage suit, she’s the universal fetish object of desire. “You want to touch her, play with her – she’s like a plastic toy,” the production’s hyperfrazzled AC/DC costumier Zoe (Nathalie Ruchyard) confides...

“I wouldn’t want to jinx the mira-culous revival of a low-budget, free-wheeling, film-smart French cinema but – zut alors! – if it’s not already here. Irma Vep isn’t only about making movies – it demonstrates that making real ones is still actually possible.”— J. Hoberman, Village Voice