From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
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 ensue as a middle-aged French film director (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) attempts to remake Louis Feuillade's classic silent serial Les vampires. Taking place as it does largely through the eyes of a foreigner (Cheung), it also a meditation upon the then-current state of the French film industry.
Cheung is employed to play the film-within-the-film's heroine, Irma Vep, 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.
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.
- Assayas married Cheung in 1998. They divorced in 2001. They again collaborated in 2004 on the film Clean.
- Irma Vep is an anagram for vampire.
- Louis Feuillade, director of the original serial film Les vampires (1915-1916)
- The Mystery of Irma Vep, a 1984 play for two characters by Charles Ludlam
- Lettrism, inspiration for some sequences of the film