Film Scouts Reviews

"Irma Vep"

by Kathleen Carroll

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May 19, 1996

Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Nathalie Richard, Antoine Basler, Lou Castel, and Bulle Ogier.

I know both French and American critics who consider Olivier Assayas to be among the richest and deepest young talents in film today. I've found his last couple of pictures, "A New Life" and "Cold Water," highly promising, but it's only with the new "Irma Vep" that I understand what the fuss is all about. Maggie Cheung plays a Hong Kong action-movie star who visits France to star in a remake of Louis Feuillade's silent classic "Les Vampires," playing the mysterious Irma Vep--an acrostic of "vamire," get it?--as she skulks through Paris at the head of an elusive criminal organization. Complicating this professional venture is the fact that Maggie speaks no French and finds it hard to understand how the production is supposed to coalesce under the unsteady guidance of a cranky old director whose best days are obviously over.

Among the other characters are a costumer who finds Maggie sexually tempting and yet another cranky old director who's poised to take over the project when the current filmmaker breaks down under the strains of his job. Assayas's camera style is crisp, expressive, and incredibly fluid, and the performances are close to perfect--especially Cheung as the eponymous star, the deliciously eccentric Jean-Pierre Leaud as the washed-up directorial genius, and Lou Castel as his eventual replacement. The movie is fast, funny, and sensitive as both cinema and psychology. Assayas has unquestionably arrived.

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