Irma Verp opens with a floating shot traversing through a functioning TV producer office. Here, the film foreshadows the chaos that will ensure; namely, within the film industry.

The film, from Olivier Assayas, is a satirical exploration of the state of film. Maggie Cheung, playing herself, is selected to play the main role for the remake of Louis Feuillade’s silent film serial ‘Les vampires.’ This is headed by René Vidal, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud. However, not long after the lines are distorted; no one seems to really know why Maggie is on the set, what the philosophies behind picking her were, and eventually it falls into the common themes of viewing people as ‘mere objects.’ Maggie is seen by others as a mere exotic object, dressed in latex. The director does seem to harbour feelings for her, as well as her costume designer, Zoé, played by Nathalie Richard. This reflects on the sate that film sets can reach; masculinity rendering other people powerless, people using their power for insidious means. Voyeurs. At times in Irma Vep, Maggie unleashes herself, or unleashes femininity and the freedom to be a woman. A strange, abstract scene in the middle of the film shows Maggie acting out the character from her film, in real life, stealing jewellery and running on roofs. It seems to be an almost cathartic release, or does it fall into the male desires? Though it appears that this is her version of what she would like to see from the film, so it is her power.

The film is a great meditation on the film industry, particularly the French. Contrasted throughout the film is the ‘boring and cerebral’ French cinema compared to the ‘fast and powerful’ Hong Kong action films. It speaks about the two different waves of films, the people who watch them; the ‘elitists, intellectuals’ and the ‘public’. It considers the esoteric films, not viewable by the public, alienating them; films made for the individual, or ‘auteur.’ An interviewer, while interviewing Maggie Cheung talks on this. He says that the public cannot watch these films; he asks has intellectual cinema destroyed cinema? Or perhaps it is the other way around.
The effects of America and big-budget films are seen on this production company; stress and constantly behind. They attempt to create true and artistic films, keeping to their roots; the French roots, but they are in danger of losing face, losing their identity. This is akin to real life at the time. The film seems to be a passionate letter to cinema, on filmmaking itself, but asking people to really use their soul, to make films that are individual. Otherwise, the cinema would fall into irrelevance, nothing unique to characterise them. René’s remake seems to be an exact copy, an omen to the many remakes we have today, changed to suit the masses, the philosophy torn from the original film, forgotten, lost. It is shown startling with the stealing jewellery segment from Maggie. This is where she is herself; she is alive, expressing herself in the way most true to her. This is further pushed with the quote from Zoé; “Why do we do what’s already been done? Why don’t we do more personal films?” This is a stark contrast from the mindless remakes of film, characters rigid, to an original and vibrant voice, Maggie on the roof, graceful and free. It is metaphorical for the huge gulfs between business/money filmmaking, and filmmaking from the soul.
This could lead onto the chaos from embarking on film-making endless arguments and people rushing everywhere. The effects of big budget films affects everything, wherein money becomes of the most important objects. Loyalties are toxic. Motives are murky. A second director considers releasing Maggie Cheung’s character from the project, with language that suggest sinister undertones, commenting on the nationality. Could it be simply that they didn’t think the character would fit, or is a more insidious agenda? In any case, it could be seen as a prophecy on the need to connect to others, regardless of who they are, to keep the film industry running.

Regardless of the subtext, and dense material, Irma Vep is a very enjoyable film in its own right; an energy. It was shot on the fly within a small amount of time, written in ten days and shot within a month. This gives the film a very organic and alive feeling, much like films from the French New Wave; playful.
Arrow’s edition of Irma Vep is a wonderful restoration; colours blend and shape into the background, with a satisfying grainy feeling, evoking the films of old, really shining through from Assayas’s vision. It feels like watching a flowing cloud, nothing too sharp and jarring, but simply flowing. The audio is crisp, with the striking music pieces contrasting with the visuals. It features a wealth of special features, including interviews with Maggie Cheung, and Olivier Assayas, an on set video of the making of Irma Vep, and a little artefact; a portrait of Maggie Cheung, in abstraction, created by Olivier Assayas; a homage to Maggie Cheung.

The pinnacle of Irme Vep builds up to the last sequence; an outcry, a fierce call of passion and rage. A profound moment to reflect, from Assayas. A sequence to ask us to find our passions, and for film to be created from ourselves.


Pre-order Irma Vep >> here <<.


  • 2K restoration from the original negative, supervised and approved by Olivier Assayas

  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation

  • Original 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio

  • Optional English subtitles

  • Audio commentary by writer-director Olivier Assayas and critic Jean-Michel Frodon

  • On the Set of Irma Vep, a 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with optional commentary by Assayas and Frodon

  • Interview with Assayas and critic Charles Tesson

  • Interview with actors Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard

  • Man Yuk: A Portrait of Maggie Cheung, a 1997 short film by Assayas

  • Black and white rushes

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Neil Young

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