TIFF Cinematheque

Irma Vep

Olivier Assayas

Hong Kong megastar Maggie Cheung is divine in the lead of Olivier Assayas’ brilliant behind-the-screen satire, about a beleaguered Parisian film crew struggling to shoot a remake of Louis Feuillade’s silent crime epic Les Vampires.

Almost since its inception, cinema has been fascinated with itself. From Chaplin's Behind the Screen to Fellini's , Truffaut's Day for Night, Tom DiCillo's Living in Oblivion, David Lynch's Inland Empire and beyond, filmmakers have delighted in exploring their own creative process while documenting the ins and outs of the film industry and the challenges inherent in simply getting a film on screen. For two decades now, French auteur Olivier Assayas has engaged in a multifaceted meditation on the age-old battle between art and commerce with such films as demonlover, L'heure d'été, Clouds of Sils Maria, and this year's Personal Shopper. But the roots of all these works reside in the deceptively modest and endlessly fascinating Irma Vep, his satirical reflection on the state of French cinema circa 1996.

Hong Kong megastar Maggie Cheung plays herself, creeping across the rooftops of Paris in a latex catsuit as she recreates the role of villainess Irma Vep in a remake of Louis Feuillade's 1915 classic Les Vampires. Speaking no French, the ever graceful Cheung floats through the increasingly troubled production, which is freighted with a feuding crew, a fading nouvelle vague–era auteur (played by nouvelle vague legend Jean-Pierre Léaud), and the pressure of a contemporary cinema that has no time for art (embodied in a philistine interviewer who rhapsodizes about John Woo). As the production disintegrates, so does the narrative and the border between reality and dream, the film slowly transforming into a reflection on the nature of the form itself.

Irma Vep was shot on Super 16mm and originally released in prints that were blown up to 35mm, which increased the film grain and lessened the sharpness of the image. With this new digital restoration created directly from the original film elements and supervised by Assayas himself, Irma Vep returns looking better, and feeling more timely, than ever before.

BRAD DEANE

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