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Irma Vep [1994] [DVD]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 June 2011
I feel downright churlish for not going completely crazy for this funny/sad look at movie-making -- specifically the rather absurd, doomed remaking of a real French classic, by an aging, out of style art-house director, starring Hong Kong action heroine Maggie Chung, who plays herself delightfully.

I enjoyed the film; its sort of a complex 1990s `Day for Night', with a paradoxical and sometimes confusing point of view about the nature of art and the state of film.

But I couldn't see it for the masterpiece a number of intelligent critics gave it credit for being. Jonathan Rosenbaum, the terrific critic from the Chicago Reader wrote a very long, in depth analysis that went right over my head, and then added insult to injury by implying that people who don't see the film as
a deep investigation of the evils of capitalism, and the meaning of ART are somehow shallow.

I'm also surprised by the number of people who take the ramblings of an obnoxious reporter in the film about the death of French art cinema as being the film's point of view on these issues. To me the film isn't taking sides, and seems to be gently satirizing, and yet embracing all of film.

Good natured, well acted, and brave (but also occasionally obscure) I quite enjoyed this and it did provoke some thinking. But I couldn't see it as the super deep film some did. For me, it was fun romp, but the ideas are less deep or radical then critics seem to want to give them credit for being.
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on 29 January 2015
Real score: 4 stars. 4.5 but can't put that in the scoring system
Adjusted for Amazon reviewers getting it wrong: 5 stars

The one star review for this film reads: "A disappointing film: the parts in English, of which there are a lot, are in such broken English that, at times, to be unintellible"

I think that says it all.

I'm a sucker for meta-fiction. I'm also a sucker for films that are simply cool, that have a lot of style even if they lack substance. Therefore, even if Irma Vep was pretentious garbage, I'd probably still rate it quite highly, because it has style in spades. However, it isn't pretentious in the slightest. It manages to pull off being thought provoking and artistically challenging without being crass or blunt or obvious.

Firstly, a little more on the style. It cuts together a film about the filming of a remake of Les Vampires, scenes from Les Vampires (some with narration, some silent, some with background music), scenes from the remade Les Vampires, and scenes from other films that the cast and crew of the fictional film have been involved in. I think that's all the layers of reality we get, although I may have missed some. There are also scenes in which Maggie Cheung dresses up like her character and goes out spying on other guests in the hotel where she is staying, effectively becoming Irma Vep, the cat-burglar/voyeuristic sexual deviant from the original film. Things are such a jumble that at times it is hard to figure out what is going on, but only ever through the intentions of the director, never as an accidental by-product of poor directing. For example, there is a scene in which a stunt double dressed in an identical black leather costume with mask runs across a roof-top, and we are unsure whether this is a scene from the film or real life, and who is in the costume; we assume it is Maggie Cheung but turns out to be incorrect.

This stylistic confusion is backed up by the super-cool soundtrack (Sonic Youth, Luna covering Bonnie & Clyde - I thought myself pretty hip on music, I had to look Luna up, turns out they are an indie supergroup consisting of members of The Feelies, The Chills and Galaxie 500 - all covering a Serge Gainsbourg track, who is himself an icon of France and of coolness - just how hip do you want to be?) and of course by the actors, particularly Maggie Cheung as herself but also Nathalie Richard as a chain smoking lesbian ex-heroin addict, and even Jean-Pierre Léaud for chrissake, as the turbulent director of the piece.

So based on these elements, the film is already a smash as far as I'm concerned, but to top off the stylistic brilliance, the end sequence is simply fantastic; the fact that, furthermore, it ends without any reaction from the fictional audience (i.e. the people who are taking over the production of the film) is simply wonderful, one of the best closing sequences I have seen in a film.

Gushing about the visual elements and the cool soundtrack aside, this movie is also a wonderful examination of the decrepitude and insularity of the contemporary French movie industry. The critic interviewing Maggie Cheung in the film is symptomatic of the kind of crass movie-goer who is essentially taking over the direction of why films are being made; he wants more Jean-Claude Van Damme, more Schwarzenegger, the lowest brow product for the lowest common denominator. Olivier Assayas however, in a sense, partially agrees with this rather idiotic argument, at least the part about how French films are for stuffy intellectuals; he at least wants to make films that have both substance and visual excitement and appeal. The "traditional" French directors he portrays do not come out smelling of roses. One is a borderline basket case, who seems to have embarked on this movie because he fancied seeing Maggie Cheung in leather, while the man who takes over his role very quickly forgets the loyalties he claims to feel towards his "friend", before embarking on a tirade that dangerously skirts racism and xenophobia concerning the casting of Maggie Cheung as the central character. This racism, or at least gross ignorance, is carried over when the production manager books Cheung a flight to Hong Kong, assuming this is where she is going having been removed from the film, whereas in fact she has a meeting with Ridley Scott in America. France, with its provincialism and insular attitude, has a movie industry which is of interest to nobody. The replacement director shoots himself in the foot by removing the actor who is essentially the only star and appeal of the piece, who seems to have only done it out of a love of art and the goodness of her heart. Without her the movie is doomed to fail. Having said that, René Vidal, the original director, is really no better, as he wanted to make a rather pointless scene-for-scene identical remake of the original film. He only reclaims his artistry in his supposed madness, the result of which is in the movie he has been working on at night and which is shown at the end.

All of this is a treatise on the rather wonderful chaos of making movies and the reasons for making them, but it is also a great exploration of difficult working relationships. Maggie Cheung is completely believable as herself. That sounds strange, but at times you really get the feeling that you are almost watching a very intimate documentary. She has a relationship with her own character that rings true, she talks about how playing her is fun, and she even sticks on Sonic Youth and pretends to be her at night.

To be honest, I'm not even very sure why I'm not giving this movie five stars. It just doesn't quite feel right. I'll no doubt watch it again in the near future and have a better idea of whether I am being conservative about scoring on this one.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
What the world needs is a movie about producing a book. You know, the creative angst of the author as he tries to remember when to use "which" and when to use "that," the nasty arguments over choosing a typeface, the dust jacket tantrums about artistic integrity if both boobs are shown or just one, the cattiness of the editors and, perhaps most insightful, whether the proofreading will continue to be the night guard's responsibility during his dinner break or whether the delivery boy from the next door deli should be given a crack at it.

Until that movie is made, Irma Vep will have to do. Please note that elements of the plot are discussed but there are absolutely no spoilers here or in the movie. Irma Vep is a movie about making a movie and it's stuffed with angst, pettiness, tantrums, ego and confusion. Taken on one of its own terms -- is it any good just as a movie -- the answer in my opinion is a loud "yes." Forget all the inside cineaste stuff (it is French, after all) and you may find that Irma Vep is funny, not just clever. It's good-natured with a friendly performance by Hong Kong kung fu heroine Maggie Cheung playing herself. Most of all, it is so eccentric a movie I seldom could stop smiling.

Rene Vidal (Jean-Pierre Leaud), an aging New Wave director now well past his sell-by date, is planning a comeback. He'll re-make a long, long and long ago silent movie called Les Vampires, a movie about a gang of criminals who prowl and stalk. One them, in a skin-tight black body suit and black mask, is named Irma Vep. She will be Vidal's inspiration. He has just the star in mind to play Irma...Maggie Cheung. Maggie, who doesn't speak French, shows up in Paris ready to work. Cast and crew snipe and argue in many mini-dramas. Vidal collapses. Cast and crew snipe and argue some more. Maggie, an outsider and quite taken by the black latex outfit she and the costume designer, Zoe (Nathalie Richard) picked up cheap at a Parisian sex shop, whiles away the time one night by creeping about her hotel wearing the suit. Like Irma Vep, Maggie sees things in the hallways and rooms, some worth taking, and then there is the nighttime rain and the high, outside fire escape leading up to the hotel's roof. All does not go well for the movie. Eventually Maggie leaves for New York to take a meeting with Ridley Scott.

Not much there, I know, except for director and writer Olivier Assayas' amusing style and Maggie Cheung's bemusement and lithe creeping. There is much pleasure in Assayas' take on movie making and movie people, but the pleasure for me comes from noticing how I came to rather enjoy and like all those behind-the-scenes groupies, workers and jerks. The dish, of course, is amusing. "Directors thrive on hypocrisy," says one. "Yeah," says another, "but sometimes they go overboard." The interview between Maggie and a young, intense film enthusiast is priceless...John Woo versus Jean-Luc Godard. The film enthusiast has strong opinions about both. Maggie doesn't.

Maggie Cheung gives a sweet center to this movie, but I liked just as much Nathalie Richard as Zoe, the lean, blonde, tentative, cigarette-smoking, girl-liking costume designer. She's past her prime if you're a teenage boy, but right at her peak if you're an adult of either sex.

Film lovers might enjoy one message. "Cinema is not magic. It's a technique and a science. A technique born of science and at the service of a will, the will of the workers to free themselves." Got that? Essayas manages to combine the idea of movies (popular entertainment) and film (a much more deadly serious concept of the movies) in a way that is eccentric and engaging. Film insiders and hopeful film insiders just might love this movie. Yet as funny and eccentric as Eerma Wep is, it's still just a movie by a talented director about making a movie. If you like movies and are relaxed about "film," I think you'll enjoy it.

This DVD issue by Zeitgeist has a very good picture.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2009
Irma Vep is a 16mm movie about making a movie, like its cumbersome predecessors, 8½. of Fellini and La nuit américaine by Truffaut.
But against the above mentioned movies, it is self-sufficient simple, exploding the script in few main outlines.
Irma Vep should be considered a little jewel and a truth film about cinema.
A disorientated Hong Kong actress (Maggie Cheung), recruited to play the main role in a new edition of a 20's Louis Feuillade's mute film, faces the chaos of a French film production and not long after becomes, due to her grace and her attitude to compare herself with others, the hinge around the inmost and close relationships between the prime actress and the film director, as so as an eccentric costumier and the whole film cast are explored.
The director, René Vidal, is played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, Truffaut's leading star, as an explicit reference to Nouvelle Vague.
Irma Vep is also a token excursion into cinema that starts with the pioneeristic and evocative mute movies; it looks at the the emerging Asiatic scenario as new source of inspiration for the west school; it quotes affectionately the outmoded social inspired movies; it settles accounts with the special effects and the muscle structure of American new style of making films, against the serious and intellectual French one, toughly in search of new evolutions; it ends with an unexpected brainwave film solution, like an homage to the experimental cinema, a ransom for the poor Vidal and perhaps a possible way of innovation for the French old-style art of cinema.
Sonic Youth's music is the sound-track for the topic upsetting scene in which Maggie transforms herself into a Vampire....
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on 26 August 2014
good
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2008
.. this strange little piece of french cinema is finally available again. And at a very reasonable price. The only downer is, that you cannot turn off the subtitles. Quite disturbing at times, because they are not very decent.
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0 of 19 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 October 2008
A disappointing film: the parts in English, of which there are a lot, are in such broken English that, at times, to be unintellible. The story is so flimsy it's not worth the trouble to try and understand what's being said. Maybe film-makers might find a film about film-making interesting, but not me.
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