Fictions about cinema and the process of making films are usually coffee for very coffee lovers. Many times they are raised from the extreme satire so that their process of looking behind the cameras does not remain in mere masturbatory exercise for those interested in how sausage is made. Some decide to use satire, but without pulling for the hilarious exaggeration that would make it accessible, but opt for something really interesting.
This is a bit close to what we expect with ‘Irma Vep‘, a singular piece of metacinema that now reaches the television format to follow sticking the dagger in the side of the film industry. The fact that it is now going to be a streaming series opens up interesting possibilities for his speech, although it is true that the original film by Olivier Assayas it still has amazing magnetism. And with the premiere of the series, we can now enjoy the feature film on HBO Max as well.
When the cinema sucks your blood
The premise already shows its complex ambitions. We follow the Chinese actress Maggie Chungplaying a fictional version of herself who joins a modest French production that wants to do a remake of a classic from the early years of cinema like ‘The vampires‘, adding an irreverent touch of post-Nouvelle vague auteur cinema. A promising opportunity, but the filming will not take long to reveal its problems and its peculiar conditions.
Assayas uses this story to satirize the creative process in European cinema -including himself if necessary-, sometimes very self-satisfied and trying to feel part of an avant-garde and an integrity that long ago left them behind. . The darts are well thrownalthough the filmmaker employs complex mechanisms in the structure and narration that make his discourse elusive.
Elusive, but also very interesting. ‘Irma Vep’ prevents the metanarrative from devouring the entire film thanks to its exploration of the emotional complexities of several of the actors involved on the shoot. Their intertwined stories reveal interesting details about their perspectives and how their vision of cinema is distorted around what they experience.
‘Irma Vep’: distorted identity
Particularly interesting is the portrait he makes of Maggie Cheung -who gives herself completely offering another of her masterful interpretations-. Her character is a suggestive opportunity to explore the art of acting, how it alters and blurs one’s own identity, especially when your experience takes you from one place to another, but also corners you in lonely spaces. The commitment for the interpretation ends breaking down barriers necessary to maintain psychological integritymaking the whole process a kind of emotional and figurative vampirism.
That Assayas has gotten away with such a daring and radical film might cast doubt on whether it really is as sharp as we think. But ‘Irma Vep’ contains many fascinating and uncomfortable ideas about cinema itself, and weaves them beautifully with a suggestive and unobvious emotional whirlwind. Its way of being punk from complex and challenging elements keep it as a singular jewelalmost unrepeatable. We will give him, yes, the benefit of the doubt to try to replicate it with his series for HBO.