What is the obsession that writer/director Olivier Assayas has with Irma Vep? In 1916, a Frenchman directed Les Vampires, a seven-hour movie about a muse to a criminal gang. 1996, Assayas uses a Chinese actress (Maggie Cheung) in a story about “disasters” that occur in a remake of the original. Although the film likely lost significant money, Assayas did get the girl as he married Ms. Cheung in 1998. Alas, they divorced in 2001. In a case of try, try again, HBO orders an eight-part series written and directed by Assayas, each with the same title as its 1916 counterpart. Watch it Monday nights weekly through July 25.
HBO makes a major blunder in dropping just one episode of Irma Vep. Though Alicia Vikander is such a natural actress that many will give the show a couple of episodes, others will get impatient. As for me, I think Irma Vep has the potential to be very good, but also very bad. Episode One doesn’t share enough to know where it’s going, other than to hint at “pure evil in a sexy kind of way.”
In the 1996 version, the director has a crush on the star. Similarly, Assayas’ camera constantly focuses on the femininity of Vikander while the on-screen talk is of female empowerment. Finally, we know that Vikander’s character had a three year long affair with her assistant, Laurie, and, despite her missteps, is not over it. But, is all this enough for an eight-part series? Thus far, Irma Vep earns only 3.5 Gavels and it has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating with an early 6.9/10 IMDb score.
Fresh off a blockbuster hit, Mira is ready to start her new film with director Rene Vidal. She’s tired of talking about Doomsday wherein she kills and “mutilates” a superhero at the end of the film. One last premiere to attend and then she’s finished. Except her old lover, Doomsday director Herman, married her old lover, Laurie, and both will be present. Unknown to Mira as she discusses his vision of the Irma Vep role, Vidal has a drug problem. Financiers threaten to pull the plug. Co-star Edmond wants to spice up his part with a sex scene with Severine, but she has a restraining order against him. Yes, like the recent Downton Abbey, we get a movie within a movie, but much more complicated.
As we watch costuming and make-up, sometimes Irma Vep gets the feel of a documentary. The camera just follows Mira around as she flirts and flits. Few can pull it off like Vikander, star of Tomb Raider and Green Knight. At this point, it’s unclear where the relationship goes, but Adria Arjana (6 Underground, Sweet Girl), matches Vikander step for step. Laurie has “power” over Mira.
Stealing a line from George Clooney, Mira makes blockbusters so she can make films she admires. And, she gets to spend two months in Paris. Why the name Irma Vep? It’s an anagram for vampire although we’ve yet to run into any.
“Mix Mira’s immersion in the role with the other shenanigans happening on set, and we should get a pretty fun view of how the movie and TV sausage is made…” Decider
“Everything is built around Vikander, in a role that makes expert use of the star’s ballet-trained physicality. There’s a palpable eroticism to her scenes with Arjona… but mostly the performance is just wonderfully light and open.” Hollywood Reporter
Vikander does have cat-like moves in her black velvet costume. In the end, I’ve likely seen the last of Irma Vep.