Blu-Ray Review: Irma Vep

France has one of the most vital, innovative and creative film industries in the world. At times during the last century, the French have led whilst the rest of us have simply attempted to follow. However, there have also been a few barren spells. The 1990s was a particularly lean period, punctuated by a few bright sparks from the likes of Mathieu Kassovitz, Caro and Jeunet, Luc Besson and Claude Sautet. Olivier Assayas’s 1996 film Irma Vep is as much a comment on the (then) state of French cinema as anything else.

René Vidal (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a once great director, has become a parody of his former self. He hires Maggie Cheung for his new film; a project to remake Louis Feuillade’s classic silent-era serial Les Vampires. Cheung, playing herself, arrives in Paris to start shooting, only to find a set in chaos. Creative differences and petty feuds are rife and the only person paying her any attention is the woman (Nathalie Richard) in charge of her skin-tight catsuit.

Irma Vep is a deeply sardonic swipe at the squabbling egos and general disarray of the French film industry towards the end of the twentieth century. Cheung is the hapless foreign star, flown in on an aging man’s whim and profoundly bemused by the confusion all around her. Vidal’s determination to make ‘high art’ drowns out the actual practicalities of making a good film. Irma Vep is a snapshot of decay, disillusionment and disenchantment.

Special Edition Contents:

  • 2K restoration from the original negative, supervised and approved by Olivier Assayas
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
  • Original 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Audio commentary by writer-director Olivier Assayas and critic Jean-Michel Frodon
  • On the Set of Irma Vep, a 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with optional commentary by Assayas and Frodon
  • Interview with Assayas and critic Charles Tesson
  • Interview with actors Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard
  • Man Yuk: A Portrait of Maggie Cheung, a 1997 short film by Assayas
  • Black and white rushes
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

Irma Vep is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy on 7 May.

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