The vamp and the cinema

Transposing his 1996 film into a mini-series, Olivier Assayas puts cinema and creation in abyss, by pushing in a few open doors…

In 1915, in the still pioneering years of cinema, the French director Louis Feuillade shot The vampires. This mute lasting 7 hours 20 divided into ten episodes tells the misdeeds of criminals – the Vampires, therefore – and Irma Vep (attention, anagram), prefiguration of Fantômas, Catwoman and Fantômette, in her black jumpsuit and feline. Nearly 80 years later, in 1996, the filmmaker Olivier Assayas seized the character of Irma Vep, of which he made a film, the story of the catastrophic filming of a remake of Vampires, by a certain René Vidal. Maggie Cheung held the title role. Here he is revisiting today, for HBO, once again the process of adapting this singular filmic object, a pretext for self-reflection on auteur cinema, the status of creator, the small menagerie of cinema and its ambiguous relationship with serial fiction.

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Alicia Vikander plays Mira Harberg, a young American actress propelled by the studios to the firmament of popularity. She arrives in Paris to shoot a free and independent adaptation of Vampires and take on the role of Irma Vep and her original voice actress, Musidora. Much to the chagrin of her agent and her personal assistant. Especially since the director, René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne), turns out to be unstable, whimsical, and the filming, which is slipping, is threatened by the production. Assayas gently mistreats the daily life of filming, the egos of the cinema, and carries an interesting reflection on the competition with the series. But the mise en abyme is a little cluttered by a choral narrative with numerous subplots satirizing the cinema business and its patrician representatives, weighted down with their somewhat too characteristic panoply: the bankable actress in search of auteur cinema and credibility , the devoted but unsympathetic personal assistant with third parties, the toxic and predatory ex, the blasé stylist, the crazy, brilliant and neurotic director, the psychorigid producer, the games of love and chance between actresses and bloated actors of smugness, hypnotized by their own reflection. In truth, the story, ambitious, struggles to start without the battering of the prodigious Vincent Macaigne, whose character and wildly brilliant interpretation constantly rock the company on the fringes of the precipice.

It is essentially by its realization that the miniseries delights, imposing a manifest style of auteur cinema and scratching the stranglehold of the mainstream on the latter. Furthermore, Irma Vep offers a share of twisting realism when it shows, in an implacable way, the disconnection of all this vain world with a reality that they are supposed to sublimate or reinvent.

Irma Vep

A series created by Olivier Assayas. With Alicia Vikander, Vincent Macaigne, Adria Arjona. Available on Be on demand.

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The vamp and the cinema