See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, August 27, 1997

Irma Vep

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 1997 at 12:00 AM

French writer-director Olivier Assayas' second feature Irma Vep is both a film-lover's film -- a movie about moviemaking punctuated by some sidelong pensées concerning the state of French cinema -- and a kinetic entertainment, fast-paced and glossed with hand-held immediacy.

Aging director René Vidal (Jean-Pierre Léaud) has decided to do a remake of a famous silent film landmark, Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires (1915), a serial about a gang of jewel thieves which served as an inspiration for Fritz Lang's later Mabuse series, which in turn influenced the young Alfred Hitchcock. Vidal has decided that the central character in the film, a leather-suited femme fatale known as Irma Vep (an anagram of vampire) should be played by Hong Kong action movie star Maggie Cheung -- played here, quite winningly, by the real Ms. Cheung.

The film opens as she arrives at the headquarters of the bustling but seemingly unfocused French set. At the center of this confusion sits Vidal, once an active beneficiary of the great French New Wave film revolution of the '60s, now a slouching husk of a man, grappling for the raison d'être behind his latest project. The more he tries to explain to Cheung his vision of a remade Les Vampires, and why he has imported her to be its centerpiece, the less sense he makes. As he lugubriously offers his half-baked insights between lapses into an enigmatic silence, we soon realize that this enterprise is doomed.

But Vidal's folly is up and running and we have a ways to go before things fall apart. Cheung gives a charmingly naturalistic performance as an outsider thrust into a strange milieu (she speaks no French), not quite sure why she's there, but determined to bring all her professionalism to bear on her dubious task. Léaud, who has been a staple of vanguard French cinema since his debut as the young lead in Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959), is brilliant as Vidal, the artiste on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Also notable are Nathalie Richard as the feisty wardrobe mistress who develops a crush on Cheung, and Antoine Basler as a humorously obnoxious film journalist who tries to browbeat the actress into agreeing that French "intellectual" cinema sucks and what the world really needs is more Jean-Claude Van Damme films.

Assayas has created a piece that works on many levels, and while cineastes will delight in its filmic references, anyone with a taste for original entertainment will find much here that satisfies.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

Tags:

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Richard C. Walls

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit