Thoughts on Irma Vep (a movie about a movie)

Saturday, November 6, 2010 2:09 PM By Simon

-Maggie Cheung plays herself, an actress flown in from Hong Kong to play the lead in a remake of Les Vampires, whom the director (Jean-Pierre Léaud) saw in an action film and was hypnotised by her (some would say 'turned on'). Not speaking a word of French (in-movie), most of the movie takes place in English, a bridge language between the French crew and herself (although she speaks it much better than everyone else).

-An oddly engrossing film on the mechanics of making a film, a criticism of French cinema in general (it's all self-service, no regard for audience, etc), although the lead character adamently defends it, and her director's odd choices, from hostile crew and reporters.

Spoilers ahead

-The end, in which director (Rene, if I haven't said his name yet) has been replaced with a friend director, after a nervous breakdown, and this guy has replaced Maggie with another actress on the film (though it's implied she'll also be fired), as he says he needs someone to represent Paris underground, not "Fu Manchu". The cast and crew sit down to watch what Rene had edited before leaving, and I think it's a lovely statement on the overall misjudgement he was under when he decided to make the film: starting as a silent, shot-for-shot remake of one part of the serial, before morphing into a chaotic mess of scratched film (with his fingernail, it looks like, painting outlines, circles, backgrounds, etc), going in and out of focus with occasional screeching. He was motivated by his enchantment with Cheung, and as production went on, he realized just how unsuited that ideal was for an actual film. So he ended up with what he really wanted: a weird, experimental short film with Maggie as the centerpiece.

-Or whatever. It's quite a good movie. Almost two-thirds in English, for those averse to subtitles.