When a Hollywood actress arrives in Paris to remake a French classic, life and art begin to blur with messy, inspired effect.
In 1916 French filmmaker Louis Feuillade created a silent classic, Les Vampires, comprised of 10 serial instalments.
In 1996 director Olivier Assayas based his feature film Irma Vep on a fictional remake of Les Vampires, with Maggie Cheung in the lead role.
Now in 2022 Assayas has an 8 part HBO miniseries Irma Vep also on a remake of Les Vampires as a serial with Alicia Vikander as American actress Mira front and centre.
Mira lands in Paris with her assistane Revina (Devon Ross) in tow and is swept into the vortex of the production team and publicity machinations that come with being an A-list star.
There’s an endless array of appearances, scheduling, exchanges with reporters, photographers, fans and selfies all within a day of landing. Everybody wants a piece of you, when all you really want is your hotel suite, and possibly a moment to focus on the role you’re about to tackle.
But Mira hadn’t counted on her ex, Laurie (Adria Arjona), also being in town and taking up a hetersexual relationship with Herman (Byron Bowers), one of Mira’s recent directors.
Her first meeting with gifted Les Vampires director René (Vincent Macaigne) is oddly obtuse, generous, coy, an exchange of ideas as two artists seek to meet in the middle….
But René has his own challenges, including his medication for anger issues proving a sticking point for the film’s insurers -his producer fears the film will be shut down altogether.
Insert into the middle of it all, actual 1916 footage of Feuillade’s silent classic and this is a striking collision of ideas and concepts, half of which is subtitled.
At the centre is an alluring, hypnotic performance by Alicia Vikander, slinking through scenes and bordering on mumblecore but with great effect. There’s a memorable scene where she is empowered by a catsuit for her character, lurking from a wardrobe fitting to pilfering from an upstairs office handbag -research, I guess? But Mira is also under the spell of her sexy ex, Laurie. It doesn’t mtter how A-list you are, you can still have vulnerabilities.
Vincent Macaigne is also captivating as the eccentric, visionary, Euro-director who detests mixing with people (go figure) and insists he isn’t making a TV series but an 8 part film.
So what to make of it all? Here’s where things are open to wide interpretation…. vanity, power, cultural clashes, art & life …there’s a lot going on.
But Assayas is in control of his canvas and draws us in with an authentic essay on the messy, sprawling cacophony of filmmaking, with enthralling characters driven by their own agendas.
While that may result in a compromised Les Vampires miniseries, it’s a triumph for Irma Vep.
Irma Vep airs Tuesday on Binge / 8:30pm Wednesday on FOX Showcase.
It lacks the Frenchness, style and point the film was trying to make about French Auteur cinema in the modern age. It’s just a Hollywood TV show within a TV show. There were a couple of interesting scenes, but mostly it was pretty boring.
Worth pointing out that ‘The Vampires’ isn’t about supernatural bloodsuckers. but slightly more prosaic criminals feeding on society.