Release Date: 13th November 1996 (France)
Running Time: 95 mins.
Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Richard, Nathalie Boutefeu, Jacque Fieschi, Lou Castel, Bulle Ogier, Olivier Torres, Arsinée Khanjian
Irma Vep is a film about the magic of filmmaking, a comment about global film culture and a satirical look at the realities of the French film industry and it has a stellar performance from the incredibly beautiful Maggie Cheung.
Maggie Cheung (playing herself) has been cast by a once legendary director named René (Jean-Pierre Léaud) in the lead role of cat burglar Irma Vep in his remake of the classic silent film serial Les Vampires. From the moment Maggie arrives in Paris chaos ensues as the crew bicker amongst each other, a costumier named Zoe (Nathalie Richard) falls in love with her, and the director suffers a mental breakdown. Already an outsider in Paris she finds herself drawn to the character of Irma Vap and takes to wearing the spandex costume and prowling her hotel at night.
At its simplest the film can be seen as an outsider in Paris stumbling around the chaos of a film in crisis. There are big personalities and the film’s crew suffers internecine warfare, ignorant journalists giving their opinions in interviews, and Maggie left bewildered and amused by these aggressive and forward Europeans. She is frequently cut out of the conversations, only the odd person speaking English to her, and for the most part no one treats her like a star since they are unfamiliar with Hong Kong cinema. It is amusing and great at conveying the sense that she is an outsider which is a situation and sensation that allows Maggie to explore a different culture and her relation to films and the creative process which creates different layers of ideas.
I saw you in a very cheap movie theatre in Marrakech
The film shows how global film culture and creativity is through many details. Various characters have tales of working on Japanese/Chinese film sets and we witness life on a French one. There are clips from French political cinema from 40 years ago and Johnny To’s Heroic Trio.The soundtrack features West Africans melodies, Gainsbourg, and rock & roll, mixing alongside classics sung by chanteuses.