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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