Irma Vep

France - 1996

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

I've always thought that the best films about making films were the ones that not only showed the difficulty of the process, but also the lunacy involved. "Living in Oblivion" was a recent flick that did the trick and now there's the equally illuminating and wildly funny "Irma Vep."

The premise is a winner. A French director, who hasn't made a good film in years, is offered a comeback with the remake of the classic silent serial, "Les Vampyres." He convinces his backers that the only actress who can play the lead is Hong Kong superstar, Maggie Cheung. Not that he's exactly familiar with her work. He decided on her because of the work her stunt double did in an action flick. For her part, Maggie accepted the role on the strength of a couple of videos in a language she didn't understand. Ah those wild and crazy film folk.

When Maggie, playing herself, arrives in Paris, a week late because of scheduling conflicts, the production frenzy goes into overdrive. She finds herself smack in the center of a film about to implode from the chaos it's creating. She weathers latex suits, artistic temperaments on a rampage, and her director's incipient nervous breakdown. Still, she floats above the fray with a serene smile and the good manners of a consummate professional.

What's magical about Cheung's performance is that even though she's never less than exquisitely polite to the artistically fragile denizens of the film, there's a subtle body language that says, "Who are all these crazy people?"

"Irma Vep" captures the French penchant for pontificating at the drop of a chapeau. An idiot journalist's diatribe about belly-button cinema is classic. But that's just a delicious side benefit. "Vep" shines because it captures the absurdity of filmmaking - a process that gathers a group of overwhelmingly unstable people, working sometimes at cross-purposes, to produce a few hours of fantasy. Think about it. If it weren't so ridiculous, it would be terrifying.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 8/6/97



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