Irma Vep

Maggie Cheung and Jean-Pierre Léaud star in this witty and free-wheeling film about filmmaking

Film Review by Barry Didcock | 06 May 2018
Film title: Irma Vep
Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Maggie Cheung, Nathalie Richard, Jean-Pierre Léaud
Release date: 7 May
Certificate: 15

If it's films about people making films that you like, it's hard to see past François Truffaut's Oscar-winning 1973 work Day For Night. But Olivier Assayas's slyly funny 1996 film Irma Vep, about a once venerable but now frazzled director (Léaud) shooting a re-make of Louis Feuillade's silent film serial Les Vampires, should be high on the list too.

Léaud, star of Truffaut's The 400 Blows, also features in Day For Night, so Irma Vep's role as fond homage is obvious. But the whip-smart Assayas adds much more, not least by casting Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung as herself playing the titular Irma Vep in a tight latex catsuit sourced from a sex shop in the company of voluble wardrobe mistress Zoé (Richard), who fast develops a crush.

The director also deploys free-wheeling set-pieces to have his characters discuss the state of French film, intercuts the action with sequences from Les Vampires and from the work of Chris Marker's radical 60s collective SLON, offers us a jarring dream sequence (or is it?), and ends with one of the most brilliant finales in 90s cinema. All in a little over an hour and a half.

Assayas would later marry Cheung, which illuminates another sub-theme – that of the relationship between star and director – and keep an eye out elsewhere for Claire Denis favourite Alex Descas and for Lou Castel, who played a director in another influential film about filmmaking, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore.


The film itself is a 2K restoration from the original negatives, but there's little that's fresh about the extras, which consist mostly of old interviews. The best is the one with Chueng and Richard, though there's also an on-set featurette and an experimental short film about Cheung shot by Assayas. [Barry Didcock]

Released by Arrow Films