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France 1996
Directed by
Olivier Assayas
99 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Irma Vep

This satirical post-modern take on French film history concerns a remake of the 1915 10 part serial "Les Vampires" by Louis Feuillade, which we helpfully see scenes from, and which is to star Maggie Cheung, the remake's director,  René Vidal (Jean-Pierre Léaud), having been impressed with her performance in a Hong Kong action film although what impressed him was actually done by a stunt double.

You can see the cleverness and quotation clearly - Léaud was, of course, the face of the French Nouvelle Vague and also brings with him memories of Truffaut’s Day For Night in which he starred with Truffaut playing the harried director; there is an amusing interview scene in which the interviewer expiates on how art killed French cinema and glorifyies the action cinema of Claude Van Damme and John Woo and various digs at the vanities, insecurities, over-heated emotions and chaos that constitutes the reality of film-making.  

It is an enjoyable film although more so for film buffs than the general viewer as there is very little in the way of narrative and the casting of Léaud is meaningless without  the filmic references and symbolic value that he brings with him (how he has aged since the glory days of Antoine Doinel!). Maggie Cheung is an engaging presence as the woman thrown into the maelstrom of the film set, as is Nathalie Richard as the lesbian wardrobe manager who has a crush on her.

Eric Gautierrich’s cinematography catches the on-the-fly the mood of the multi-layered  film well, his camera recording casual moments and fleeting expressions with a sense of cinema verité intimacy whilst the final section in which we see the results of Vidal’s handiwork in the editing room is a delightful silent Godardian kiss-off to the project.




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