Irma Vep

Irma Vep is a 1996 film directed by the French director Olivier Assayas, starring Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung (playing herself) in a story about the disasters that result as a middle-aged French film director (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) attempts to remake Louis Feuillade's classic silent film serial Les vampires. Taking place as it does largely through the eyes of a foreigner (Cheung), it is also a meditation on the state of the French film industry at that time.

Irma Vep
Directed byOlivier Assayas
Produced byGeorges Benayoun
Written byOlivier Assayas
CinematographyEric Gautier
Edited byLuc Barnier
Distributed byDacia Films
Release date
November 13, 1996
Running time
97 minutes
Budget$1.4 million
Box office$520.000[1]

The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[2]


Cheung is employed to play the film-within-the-film's heroine, Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire), a burglar, who spends most of the film dressed in a tight, black, latex rubber catsuit, defending her director's odd choices to hostile crew members and journalists. As the film progresses, the plot mirrors the disorientation felt by the film's director. Cheung the character is in many ways seen by other characters as an exotic sex object dressed in a latex catsuit; both the director and Cheung's costume designer Zoe (Nathalie Richard) have crushes on her.

The film makes reference to iconic figures in French film history: Louis Feuillade, Musidora, Arletty, François Truffaut, the Groupe SLON, Alain Delon, and Catherine Deneuve. Thematically, the film questions the place of French cinema today. It is not a "mourning for cinema with the romantic nostalgia" but "more like the Mexican Day of the Dead: remembrance as an act of celebration,"[3] so that "It is less a film about re-presenting the past, than it is a film about addressing the present, specifically the place of France within the global economy."[4]



The idea for the film was born out of an attempted collaboration among Assayas, Claire Denis, and Atom Egoyan, who wanted to experiment with the situation of a foreigner in Paris. In the 1915 original serial, written and directed by Louis Feuillade, Irma Vep was played by French silent film actress Musidora (1889–1957). Much of the film depicts set-related incidents that echo scenes in Truffaut's La nuit americaine (English title: Day for night), to which Irma Vep owes a large thematic debt.

However, Assayas publicly stated that although he considers La nuit americaine a great film, it is more about the fantasy of filmmaking than the reality. Assayas credits Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore as a greater inspiration.

Assayas married Cheung in 1998. They divorced in 2001. They again collaborated in 2004 on the film Clean.

References in other media

Lettrist footage from the film, along with shots from the original Les Vampires, are used in White Ring's video for their single IxC999.

A character in the 5-comic series "Anno Dracula - 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem" by Kim Newman and Paul McCaffrey.

See also


  2. "Festival de Cannes: Irma Vep". Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  3. Chris Darke, "Irma Vep," Sight and Sound, vol. 7, no. 3 (March 1997), p. 52.
  4. Dale Hudson, "‘Just Play Yourself, "Maggie Cheung"’: Irma Vep, Unthinking National Cinemas, and Rethinking Transnational Stardom," Screen, vol. 47, no. 2 (summer 2006), p. 232.
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