Irma Vep Review

Sincerely one of the great topics any film can take for itself is the impenetrable articulation of ego on set. How a director can possibly hope to capture the ramifications of the off-stage problems and the dramatics that may plague a film’s production is itself an act of egotism. But to slate director Olivier Assayas as an egotist is a remarkable miss of the real point at heart for his feature Irma Vep. It is the personal touch Assayas adds to his feature here that marks it as a more natural, nuanced portrayal of the spinning plates of any star or director. The behind-the-scenes bureaucracy and paperwork captured with such accepted disgust for it all.

It is an unenviable position Assayas finds himself in. To draw influence from somewhere is, almost immediately, to criticise it. He overcomes that issue by incorporating outsiders phasing themselves into an antagonistic underbelly of bruised egos and snapped patience. Maggie Cheung’s leading role as Maggie, an actor on the move in an adaptation of Les Vampires, is a stunning performance. It is a portrayal of that animosity but also a tension found in adapting to a new system of work. Audiences, like Maggie, are the outsider to a new brand of filmmaking, of what is expected and absolved of the stars working with tight deadlines and even tighter relationships. They talk of their past works with that unloved but respected desire to return to it, as it would be better than the set they find themselves on now.

All the greats of this fascinating, self-loathing sub-genre can be critical of the movies they make without defying the great and long-lasting love audiences and creatives have for the movies. Similar in its line of reasoning to that of The Player, Assayas’ work on Irma Vep has the constantly moving camera following those that make the wheels behind the scenes spin, rather than those that are often planted in front of the camera. It is the point of it all, though, that gives Irma Vep that impossible edge. A criticism and broader understanding of French cinema pour from Assayas’ work, with the attitudes of the time explored just as much as the economic longevity and artistic merit of such a historic phase of film.

Assayas’ aggrandising perspective on the rich history of French contemporary cinema steers Irma Vep as more than an assisted criticism of moviemaking of the mid-1990s, but veiled praise for the hard work of those that keep the machine spurring on. Costume designers who make sure the suit is fitted well and workable for the star, the prop developers who hear anecdote after anecdote and only want to know if one gun is suitable for that scene or another. The broad scope Assayas presents feels well-worked and realistic, the most crucial aspect these performers must rely on during their rendition of what goes on behind the scenes of frustrated artisans taking their chances on a remake or remastering. Irma Vep is a stunning rendition of an old story because anyone hoping to highlight the movie industry must take it in, warts and all.

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