Assayas’ Irma Vep lives on

Picture of the film IRMA VEP by Olivier ASSAYAS © DR

After having unveiled Carlos in Cannes in 2010 (Out of Competition), Olivier Assayas is back with fresh blood: his series Irma Vep (an anagram of 'vampire') follows on from the film of the same name that was presented at Un Certain Regard in 1996. In a world exclusive, the first three episodes are being screened today on the Cannes Première big screen.

Irma Vep is a series about a series. The ultra-famous Mira (Alicia Vikander) has been cast by René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne) as Irma Vep in a remake of the film Les Vampires. Accustomed to Hollywood productions, the actor seizes the part as a golden opportunity to experiment with new creative outlets and forget her romantic disappointments. But as filming progresses, the actor is sucked dry by her own character.

If the story sounds familiar, that's because it is. Olivier Assayas told this tale in his 1996 film starring Maggie Cheung in the title role, along with Jean-Pierre Léaud and Nathalie Richard. The Irma Vep of 2022 deepens the narrative over the course of eight episodes.

“I did everything I wasn’t able to do in the original film. I drew on the ten episodes of Louis Feuillade’s original serial, cutting them down to eight.”

In the series, Olivier Assayas splices in stills from Louis Feuillade's silent film, Les Vampires. In doing so, he offers up Musidora, the original actor, as a mirror image of Alicia Vikander, before blurring the boundary that separates the two women, a veil a century long. The overall effect accentuates the creeping schizophrenia that is beginning to encroach on the protagonist, as if in the grip of a phantom from another time.