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Hong Kong action diva Maggie Cheung plays herself in this satire on contemporary French cinema. Cheung has the lead role as a latex-suited reincarnation of Irma Vep, the super-criminaline of Feuillade’s silent 1915 serial of jewel thieves in Paris, called Les Vampires (Irma Vep …VampIre . . . get it?). However, from day one on the set, Cheung senses that the ambitious project is balancing on the fine line between success and disaster; the crew bicker, the director despairs of realising his vision and the producer is on a war path with everyone. Cheung is left adrift with only the friendship of a persecuted lesbian wardrobe mistress to lean on. In the end, Rene, the director (Jean-Pierre Leaud) has a nervous breakdown and has to be replaced – with a director who hates the idea of a Chinese Irma Vep.

"Assayas’ notes to this film explain how the inspiration for it was knowing Maggie Cheung, whom he had met at a film festival. He put the idea of Les Vampires together with Cheung, and developed it from there. In developing ideas from such a narrow base, the filmmaker ran the risk of getting nowhere. As he himself states, "Irma Vep was never a sensible idea." In the end, he has made a thin movie characterised by lots of imaginative ideas looking for glue, and the usually excellent performances of some fine French actors – who can give meaning to smoking a cigarette, even if nobody knows what that is. Maggie Cheung herself is actually terrific in this, partly because Assayas uses a partly improvised filmmaking style (a little like Australia’s Bill Bennett [Kiss or Kill]), which gives her lots of freedom, and partly because of her extensive experience. She has a staggering 13 year filmography, mainly of Hong Kong action films, that exceeds 70 film roles. Cheung is natural, likeable and as curious about it all as we the audience. Irma Vep has some appealing scenes and also some infuriatingly senseless ones – such as a hotel room jewellery theft in which Maggie Cheung seems to be playing out her character’s role in real life. But who knows why. Still, I found it quite entertaining."
Andrew L. Urban

"Made in exactly four weeks under a very tight budget, the film evolved as a project of love, based on a simple desire to make a film with Cheung, as Andrew points out above. Although there is certainly much to enjoy in Irma Vep, as it weaves in and out of reality, combining the complexities of the film-making process with artistic temperament, it goes nowhere, and leaves the audience high and dry. But maybe that’s the idea. Perhaps Assayas’ idea, with a bit of seasoning, is intended for the viewer to make of it what he will. The film is intriguing, compelling, baffling and frustrating all at once. Cheung has an appealing screen freshness which beguiles. What interests me most is the clever crossing of cultures: the effective use of both the English and French language. French is used throughout, except when Cheung is involved in the action. Irma Vep is a film full of chaos, which at times entertains and at times makes you wonder what it’s all about."
Louise Keller

"Movies about movie making have a voyeuristic quality that's irresistible to those of us who love the movies. Irma Vep is a film that has many beguiling qualities, though as a cohesive whole, it lacks spark. Maggie Cheung is a huge success in her native Hong Kong, and has a certain allure when dolled up in her sexy latex outfit. But playing this outsider in a French film, she's clearly out of her element and lacks the depth to carry off some of the film's more complex moments. By the film's inconclusive conclusion, Cheung is as elusive and enigmatic as she was in the beginning, and playing herself, there's no sense of character at play. The French cast is far more successful, and visually, Irma Vep has a striking glow which is often breathtaking and fluid. Had writer/director Olivier Assayas taken as much trouble to define his characters than to express his ideas visually, Irma Vep would have been a far greater work than it merely pretends to be."
Paul Fischer

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IRMA VEP (M 15+)

CAST: Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Nathalie Richard, Bulle Ogier, Lou Castel, Arsinee Khanjian, Antoine Basler, Nathalie Boutefeu, Alex Descas, Dominique Faysse, Bernard Nissile, Olivier Torres

DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas

PRODUCER: Georges Benayoun

SCRIPT: Olivier Assayas


EDITOR: Luc Barnier


PRODUCTION DESIGN: Françoise Guglielmi

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes



AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 18, 1997


Festivals: Cannes, 1996 - Un Certain Regard

VIDEO DISTRIBUTO: Siren Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASSE: July 12, 1999

RRP: $29.95

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