Saturday, November 22, 2008

Irma Vep-VampIre

The silent French classic, Les Vampires, is a 10-episode serial made in 1915 by Louis Feuillade about a group of burglars and their leader Irma Vep. Irma Vep (1996) tells the story of a Chinese actress (Maggie Cheung playing herself) who’s arrived in France to film a remake of the classic serial only to find the film’s once-revered director has lost his marbles.

I don’t know why, but I find the film appealing. It’s pretty slow-moving and a bit of a mess, but also intriguing mainly because of Cheung’s performance (and this hot latex cat suit she has to wear the whole time). Our confusion with the film mimics Cheung’s confusion in her surroundings as she struggles to make sense of the chaotic scene she’s walked into. She must contend with the batty director’s impossible perfectionism, condescending reporters, language barriers and the overt affection bestowed upon her by the female costume-designer. The fact that she’s playing herself makes the film seem that much more realistic and gives it a voyeuristic quality.

But the reason I felt like writing about the film, and what separates it from being another weird artsy French sleeper, is the incredible last five minutes. After the director's probable nervous breakdown, the cast and crew sit down to watch his final, abandoned cut of the film. Until then, nothing has prepared us for his electric vision-- so rockstar and awesome and unexpected.

Here’s the last five minutes, but I would watch it only if you don’t plan to see the whole film.

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