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Irma Vep 1996 ****

The tricky, post-modern strategies of Olivier Assayas are somewhat more accessible now than they were back in 1992, when Irma Vep appeared to dazzle the cognoscenti and bemuse genre fans. Since then, films like Personal Shopper have established more of a house style for the French director, who takes genre elements from horror and supernatural fictions, and merges them with kitchen-sink reflections of the realities facing French film-makers.

Irma Vep features Les Vampires, the celebrated serial created by Georges Fusillades, and fuses it with Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night. The result is not a horror film, but it is an ingenious meditation of the conflict between the creative process and cultural history; just don’t expect jump scares.A rather disgruntled Parisian crew are starting work on a film about Irma Vep, a cat-burgling super-hero based on the classic character.

The production team are less-than-wowed that this heritage femme fatale is to be played by imported star Maggie Cheung, who arrives to a somewhat stony welcome. The film’s director, Rene (Jean-Pierre Leaud, from many of Truffaut’s films) embraces her, but he’s got issues of his own, and a pressurised affair with a costume director (Nathalie Richard) doesn’t help smooth things over. And Cheung, who accepts the physical indignities of the black leather cat-suit with remarkable calm, might be losing her mind to the character; she seems to be indulging in a little petty larceny on the side.

While some of the posturing regarding French cinema may be a little dated, Irma Vep is one of the few films that capture the mixture of the mundane and the extraordinary that go into the making of even the most low-key film. The world of Irma Vep is a world of chaos, but amongst the clubbing and the alarming late night police visits, a sense of satire emerges that makes Irma Vep a must-watch for anyone interested in the creative side of exactly how films are made.

 

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