Series review: Irma Vep

– In this captivating series made for HBO, Olivier Assayas pays homage to his 1996 film as well as to the silent film classic The vampires by Louis Feuillade

Alicia Vikander and Devon Ross in Irma Vep

One of the most facetious details of the original version ofIrma Vep (1996) is how the director of the film in the film (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), which is a remake of Vampires, refers to Michelle Pfeiffer’s interpretation of Catwoman as the inspiration for her eponymous maleficent heroine. A film from the mid-1990s quoting another film made only a few years earlier, it’s pretty amazing when you think about it: it would be like mentioning Titanium in the next Tom Cruise. Recent films are rarely so aware of other films surrounding them, preferring to hide their influence on them rather than explicitly cite them.

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In the hyperreferential films of Olivier Assayas, the world, as well as other cinemas, tends to burst onto the screen more freely, as again proven by his latest work, the series Irma Vepwhich also marks the successful return of the filmmaker to the TV format in several episodes in which he excelled in 2010 with carlos [+lire aussi :
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, ending the transition to the downward trajectory, in terms of form, of his last feature films. The series takes up the premise and most of the plot of this landmark title in the director’s career: we follow very closely the chaotic production of a remake of Vampires, the ten-part silent film that laid the groundwork for an eclectic circle of directors ranging from Hitchcock to Rivette to those who directed Batman. A popular foreign actress (Maggie Cheung in the film, Alicia Vikander in the series) arrives in jet to play the anti-heroine of the title, namely Irma Vep, the criminal molded in a black jumpsuit, and this time again, the production, which reflects the French cinema industry as a whole, does not quite manage to assimilate his presence, which is completely out of place. The broadcast of the series concluded this week, after the preview of the first three episodes in Cannes in May.

The most significant change, and ultimately the most profitable, that Assayas made in the series is to amplify even more the role of the tortured director René Vidal, replacing the herald of the New Wave on the return embodied by Léaud by an endearing neurotic played by Vincent Macaigne, who insists what he’s doing is an epic eight-hour feature film and not dumb, mean TV, excuse me. The main bone of contention is Vidal’s determination not to let go of this white elephant-shaped work, while his sleazy investors, the golfing kind, his own fluctuating mental health and his actors (who do not understand the lack of psychology of the characters, which the filmmaker keeps as it is, faithful to slavery to the original version of 1915) all gang up against him. Only Mira, the character played by Vikander, shows a great artistic complicity with Vidal, and guides him towards a form of patching up his disturbed mind – which gives every appearance of being the primary reason, moreover quite selfish, for which he wants to redo The vampiresthough he actually clearly gets quite a bit of enjoyment out of all the movie-making entails (like employing a virtuoso choreographer with a passion for cable performances and a BDSM consultant with a sense of comedic timing flawless).

Vikander’s conception of his character is deeply informed by Assayas’ work with Kristen Stewart : she manages to present an in-depth view of the professional life of a famous actress, stoic in the face of the cynicism of other stories and satires on showbiz. As for the other characters working on this shoot, from the cinematographer knowing how to keep a cool head embodied by Antoine Reinartz to the libertine actor played by Lars Eidingerthey were lovingly nicked from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, picking up on the sadistic power-play dynamic that runs through his work, except that Assayas directs most of his anger at the cruel forces of capital that hamper artistic creation and hover above the warped, transactional relationships between humans seen here – though he manages to find a twinkling beauty in that, too.

Irma Vep is a co-production between the United States and France that brought together the efforts of A24, Vortex Sutra, The Reasonable Bunch and Little Lamb. The series is distributed by Warner Bros. Television.

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(Translated from English)

Series review: Irma Vep