Irma Vep, by Olivier Assayas: charming series on series

René Vidal, the director of the series The Vampires, no longer interested in cinema. Incarnated by Vincent Macaigne, this fictional double of filmmaker Olivier Assayas is depressed, fights with his actors, and suffers from severe misanthropy: I can’t stand people, well more precisely, I can’t stand interacting with people”. In Irma Vep, he is working on a remake of Vampires, the 1915 miniseries by Louis Feuillade. Just like Olivier Assayas who reinterprets, with this new HBO miniseries (currently broadcast in France on OCS), his 1996 film Irma Vepalso inspired by The vampires.

If this introductory paragraph made your brain knot, be warned: Irma Vep, series about series, is a profoundly meta work, a joyous self-referential mess that multiplies the mise en abyme. Each episode thus interweaves the daily life of the production, the images shot by René Vidal, as well as archives of the real series. The vampires. And the further the series progresses, the more the boundaries blur between fiction and reality.

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As often in his work, Olivier Assayas wonders about the entertainment industry, stuck between creative dreams and mercantile reality. Mira, the lead actress played by Alicia Vikander, is a deeply jaded star, torn between the demands of her agent who wants her to star in blockbusters and perfume commercials, and her desire to be challenged by more demanding roles. . She sees the European filming of Vampires like a new start in this industry with which she has an obvious love-hate relationship. Moreover, the majority of the characters ofIrma Vep are stuck in this ambivalence, passionate about a job that does not seem to give them any pleasure: “Everyone lies about addiction issues, otherwise we wouldn’t be making movies!”underlines the grumpy producer embodied by Alex Descas.

Movie or series?

Among the recurring jokes that make the flavor ofIrma Vep, there is the semantic debate on this work that no character wants to qualify as a series. “It’s not a series because I don’t do series”Vidal defends himself. “It’s a film, admittedly a bit long, divided into eight episodes”. Olivier Assayas, who himself is reluctant to define his miniseries as such, has nevertheless put his finger on one of the major developments in the television industry: the increasingly tenuous boundaries between formats. Series, mini-series, “eight-hour films”, limited series or TV movies, no one agrees anymore to define this television content, viewed on a multitude of media ranging from the cinema screen (Irma Vep saw its first three episodes broadcast at the Cannes Film Festival) on mobile phones.

In a brief but meaningful scene, René Vidal watches the rushes of his series on his cell phone, in the metro. Viewing conditions that are sub-optimal to say the least, which would give cold sweats to Christopher Nolan. However, he is so absorbed by the scene that he almost misses his stop. Unfortunately, the reflection on the new challenges of the industry is (in the four out of eight episodes that we were able to watch), not always as extensive as one might hope. Intimacy coordinators, including the role proved to be crucial in recent years, for example, are only given a brief mention.

An irresistible charm

Despite everything, difficult to resist the charms ofIrma Vep. The series features an impressive international cast, bringing together Vincent Lacoste, Lars Eidinger, Jeanne Balibar, Tom Sturridge, Hippolyte Girardot… The love that Assayas feels for his own environment is certainly ambivalent, but that does not prevent him from be contagious. When Mira, possessed by the role of Irma Vep, begins to dance, time stops, and this moment of grace reminds those who have forgotten of the magic of the image.

With the explosion of Peak-TV, the domination of streaming platforms or the exodus to TV of movie stars (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Winslet, Michael Douglas…) and filmmakers (Jane Campion, Steven Soderbergh, Ben Stiller, David Fincher …), the world of series has been changing for several years. By offering a reflection in progress, and not always accomplished, the “film in eight episodes” by Olivier Assayas fairly faithfully reflects this change of time.

Irma Vep is broadcast in France on OCS.

Irma Vep, by Olivier Assayas: charming series on series