Irma Vep

Irma Vep ★★★★★

This is, for my money, Olivier Assayas' masterpiece. The '96 IRMA VEP is, in many ways, equally wonderful but the differences between the two projects are instructive, and illustrate how much Assayas has evolved as a filmmaker over the past quarter century. The OG IRMA VEP is more about global film culture and film history and functions more as a work of criticism: In it, you can see Assayas contemplating the legacy of the French New Wave and the influence of Hong Kong cinema on the West, and asking himself how it might be possible to remake LES VAMPIRES at the end of the 20th century.

IRMA VEP the limited series concerns itself more with the actual process of filmmaking and is clearly a more personal work: "Rene Vidal" is no longer a washed-up New Wave director but rather a stand-in for Assayas himself (something made tantalizingly explicit when Vidal is visited by the ghost of "Jade Lee," a stand-in for Maggie Cheung). Making the actress who’s been cast as Irma a fictional character this time (i.e., "Mira Harberg" rather than an iconic movie star playing herself) lets Assayas put the focus more on what it means to be an actress (does the performer inhabit the role or become possessed by the character?), to be a director, and to create collaborative art in general.

The results are poignant and profound but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out this is also, by far, the funniest thing Assayas has ever done: I'll never forget Vidal saying, without irony, that he "tried happiness" but that it wasn't for him, the character of the "bondage consultant," the scenes between the director and his therapist (as novel and humorous as the concept of a gangster in therapy when THE SOPRANOS first aired), and pretty much every scene with Gottfried, the crackhead German actor who wants to be a rock star.

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