Irma Vep. The review of Olivier Assayas’ miniseries on Sky

Beautiful, complex and ambitious eight-episode television series produced by HBO and inspired by the film of the same name directed by the same director in 1996. On Sky and NOW.

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Fortunately, Olivier Assayas continues to be one of the greatest contemporary directors. And, unlike many “masters” today, he is not afraid to film, for example, human beings who use him smartphone. Or to tell characters from the world of entertainment who prepare a scene and review a sequence of 1916 on a digital medium of 2022. What counts is the content, not the container, the French filmmaker seems to want to tell us clearly, here grappling with a complex, ambitious, series eight-episode television series produced by HBO and inspired by the film he directed in 1996.

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We are in Paris and the rising star of Hollywood Mira (Alicia Vikander, perfect and courageous both as an interpreter and as executive producer), in the midst of the promotion of a superhero film, accompanied by her young assistant, begins shooting a television series remake of Les Vampires, the silent masterpiece by Louis Feuillade who actually started in 1915 the film storytelling in episodes and Irma Vep, the first great female heroine of the big screen. The director is René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne, here the real alter ego of Assayas, much more than the Jean-Pierre Léaud of the “first” Irma Vep), a niche director who struggles with his nervous breakdown and the ghosts of the film he shot long ago on the same subject. A film that made him fall in love with his ex-wife, a Hong Kong actress whom he hasn’t seen for years. We are therefore immersed in the behind the scenes of the series. In the “film within the film”. But also in the private life and human relationships of those who work in show business. And on the set, life not only imitates art, it absorbs its magic and curse. So as soon as she wears the black costume, bondage, by Irma Vep, Mira “becomes” Irma Vep. She goes in and out of the screen, from hotel rooms. She goes through the night.

Copies and ghosts chase each other continuously. Irma Vep it is a work of double and beyond. The 2022 TV series follows the ’96 film, amplifies it and surpasses it. Assayas remakes Feuillade and perhaps becomes Feuillade. Macaigne becomes Assayas. Vikander replaces Maggie Cheung who in turn reinvented Musidora, the first Irma Vep. And therefore the many female versions of the character intersect in an endless cross-fade that crosses the eras, the frames and the imaginaries. Then there’s the drugged German actor (Lars Eidenger) who lives like the ghost of Fassbinder or a rock ‘n roll star. And Mira’s young assistant, which refers to Kristen Stewart’s Sils Maria And Personal Shopper. Connections, mirrors that reflect shapes, characters, presences from other films or other sets.

How many stories, traces, paths, overlaps … Irma Vep it is not a film, nor a serial. It is a magnificent exorcism. “Light is harder to reach than darkness”Mira says to René Vidal at the end of the shoot. The whole series is immersed in the darkness of the night and the unconscious. It is the night of Paris, never so contemplated and “photographed” by the French filmmaker. The night of Feuillade. But above all the night of the cinema. Of cinema as we have always thought it and (perhaps) it can no longer be. Then, at a certain point, almost unexpectedly after the “storm”, comes the end of the shoot that the director and the muse have painstakingly and hysterically completed. Irma Vep ends. The crew seems to melt in the light of day. Like dreams. The set empties from attendance. The characters have relaxed faces. Cinema, or seriality, or whatever it is, has run its course. Light after dark. Beautiful. Compared to the cinematographic referent of twenty-five years earlier, the work is completed. Sure Vidal is experiencing his “crisis” and his delusional obsession with Feuillade and Musidora, but he manages to free himself. If in the feature film of ’96 the director storyteller he failed and, as an underground iconoclast who grew up with the experimental cinema of the 60s and 70s, he decided to scratch the film, this time the author is still betting on the narrative. He continues to scratch and electrify his images, but he manages to “see” and “tell”. And so we viewers too “see” and intercept the molecules of cinema and those of life, mirroring each other. Like the dark and the light. We cross and welcome black magic, the dream line that unites Feuillade, Kenneth Anger, Godard and Truffaut, and then we return home. Waiting for the future. Waiting for the spirits and stories that resist the passage of time.

Original title: id.
Director: Olivier Assayas
Interpreters: Alicia Vikander, Vincent Macaigne, Nora Hamzawi, Antoine Reinartz, Devon Ross, Jeanne Balibar, Vincent Lacoste, Alex Descas, Lars Eidinger, Hippolyte Girardot, Pascal Greggory
Distribution: Sky, Now
Duration: 56 ′ (1st and 3rd ep.), 52 ′ (2nd ep.), 55 ′ (4th ep.), 51 ′ (5th ep.), 57 ′ (6th ep.), 48 ‘(7th ep.), 60’ (8th ep.)
Origin: France, USA, 2022

The evaluation of the film by Sentieri Selvaggi

The vote of the readers


4.75
(4 votes)

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The Summer Cinema Arenas in Rome

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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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