Irma Vep and the “serial” ghosts of cinema. The review of the Olivier Assayas series with Alicia Vikander

Aim (Alicia Vikander), a Swedish actress tired of the usual American blockbusters about superheroes (she could have played a female Silver Surfer), back from a media scandal and a love disappointment, arrives in Paris to star in the remake of a famous French silent film serial, The vampires by Louis Feuilladein the role of the protagonist, the thief Irma Vepdirected by a filmmaker out of the mainstream sirens named René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne), struggling with a nervous breakdown and who had previously made a film of the same subject. She soon realizes, however, that the points of contact between her and the character are many more than she believed and the boundaries between reality and fiction will begin to fray and wear each other out, becoming less and less clear and defined and producing an irreversible and irreversible fusion. bumpy of fiction and non-fiction.

The series Irma Vep – Life imitates artremake of the film of the same name by Olivier Assayas of 1996, of which the French director wrote and directed all the episodes, sees Vikander in the role she was at the time of the diva of oriental cinema Maggie Cheungmuse and ex-wife of Assayas who had shared many sets with Jackie Chan and with whom the former critic of the Cahiers du Cinéma also shot Clean – When rock runs through your veins. Of Irma Vep Assayas is also an executive producer and is his second small-screen experience since Carlosseries based on the life of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, a Marxist terrorist and Venezuelan mercenary.

In the original film the famous silent serial was taken up in a postmodern key Les Vampirescomposed of ten episodes released in 1915 directed by Louis Feuillaude and adored by the surrealists for the mockery of the bourgeoisie in a “fantastic” key, which is why the serial matrix of the operation is already contained in the starting materials. Irma Vepas well as being factual a remake series of a film in which a remake series of a film was shotalso takes up the many refined references of the original: Mira is the anagram of Irma, whose full name, Irma Vep, was in turn the anagram of Vampire, and from her name – as the protagonist of the original of the 1915, the actress Musidora – the term originated vamp.

The character of Vikander, for her part, seems to adhere to the metalinguistic and cinematographic obsessions of the original film by hybridizing them with the ghosts serial of contemporary cinema: a scenario in which the presence of cinecomics is pervasive and all-encompassing; almost everything seems reduced to content diluted ad hoc to enlarge the platforms; advertising, market surveys, algorithms and subjection to the pretense of knowing in advance the tastes of the viewer have clipped the wings of risk and experiment; and the Marvel MCU, to cite the most macroscopic example, has effectively acquired the dynamics of seriality, interacting closely and seamlessly with its productions for the small screen destined for Disney +.

In Irma Vepwhich compared to the original film faces head on the ecosystem of platforms then absent, the sense of immateriality and evanescence due to digital it becomes more and more marked, bringing the old stardom of the past to dematerialize or the identities to fragment in ghostly presences, oscillating from the screen of a device to the other, tools that Assayas, unlike other authors, is not afraid to film (Paolo Sorrentino, for example, made no secret of the fact that he would never dare to film a chat on a smartphone and would not have the courage). After all, the two most crucial films of Assayas’ recent production were addressing precisely these issues, Sils Maria And Personal Shopperboth with Kristen Stewart (also featured in the cast of Irma Vep in a small role to be discovered, similar to a seal), while Irma Vep bet more on satire on the whims, narcissisms, insecurities and neuroses behind the scenes of the world of cinemastraddling America and France, somewhere between Call my agent! and our own Borisbut with an extremely marked and radical intellectual and cinephile taste.

This idea of prestige tvfor which Assayas worked with HBO but also with the independent production and distribution house more à la page and coveted of the moment, the A24however, challenges the rhetoric of “Seriality for cinephiles” and the perhaps misused definition of “8 hour long film and in chapters”to which Assayas, however, as well as his fictional alter ego, much closer to him than the Jean-Pierre Léaud of the original: a Vincent Macaigne as always wrinkled and poignant, also used by the director to address a love letter and posthumous regret to ex-wife and muse Maggie Cheung, from whom he divorced in 2001.

TO Irma Vep they are of particular interest the idiosyncrasies and radical uncertainties of today which, however, end up being the same as always (the cinema is basically a medium – as proof of his connection with the ghosts – whose death is predicted since his birth), the re-enactment of the past in the form of an eternal backstageexpressed in an absolute present in which, as always, “spirits are neither good nor bad, but only spirits“,”everyone lies about their addictions, otherwise they wouldn’t make more films” And “light is much more difficult to reach than darkness», As Mira says to René at the end of the shoot. The struggle to make films, in short, always resembles a lot an exorcismand not much has changed even if today concepts such as politically correct are being brought into the same cauldron, woke culturefeminism and cultural appropriation and there are crack addicted foreign stars who “at the Oscars now there are only Mexican and Korean directors“.

The discourse on cinema that comes out of it does not differ, ultimately, from a celebration of the seventh art outside of any temporal grid, artistic and creative season and current of thought and market, and that as such of cinema above all embraces precariousness, eternal transience and intrinsic and inalienable fragility. Alicia Vikander is in this sense a sweeter and more delicate body and face than Maggie Cheung, and her floating on the roofs of Paris can only be less mysterious and erotically disturbing and more plastic and literal, as the times dictate (if the Maggie Cheung of the film Irma Vep was an alien from the East, today Mira is an alien from Hollywood).

The Swedish actress, however, is on balance perfect for an Irma Vep of 2022 and for the speech on the off-screen of cinema carried out by the series, given that after many independent films she has entered mainstream cinema (tomb Raider) with thinned and tiring results. If we then think that she was Assayas’ second choice if Kristen Stewart couldn’t star in Personal Shopperis that Mira’s assistant in the series, the Queen interpreted by Devon Rossin the infinite game of references, joints and fluctuations orchestrated by Assayas is an almost exact copy of Stewart’s character in Sils Mariait is clear how cinema is proposed as seance but also how magical and alchemical ritual made up of transitions and cross dissolvesin which after all sets never really exist but they are always, just like dreams, one imitation of life.

Photos: A24, Vortex Sutra, The Reasonable Bunch, Little Lamb


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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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