IRMA VEP (Olivier Assayas, 1996)

Originally published on Montreal Schlock City on July 3rd, 2016

Assayas’ Day for Night, which is probably the ultimate cosmic joke the director plays on us. This is, after all, a film that turns up its nose at rehashes and remakes while indulging in them on a textual and meta-textual level. But where Truffaut was more whimsical about the nature of filmmaking, Assayas is more practical, and thus more pessimistic. Maggie Cheung stars as Maggie Cheung, an actress from Hong Kong cast as Irma Vep (geddit?) in a remake of Louis Feuillade’s Les vampires. As principal photography looms ever closer, the magical movie-making machine immediately starts to sputter: appointments are missed, ideas are ridiculed, and temperaments clash. Not helping matters in the slightest are the crushes that both the director (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and the costume designer (Nathalie Richard) have on Cheung. Irma Vep mirrors the progressive dissolution of the mechanism: the film starts out sturdy and energetic and progressively becomes more and more frayed and delirious. Cheung recedes from eager actress to fetish object, silent, swathed in latex, culminating in an abstracted black-and-white sequence where Lettrist trappings are doing the emoting for her. Everyone here is awkward and dissatisfied, knowingly or not jamming sticks in each other’s spokes. So much of filmmaking is ensuring that everyone is on the same page; that a movie can be completed at all is a minor miracle.