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HBO’s sneaky new series is confusing the film industry : NPR


In the miniseries Irma VepAlicia Vikander plays an actress who travels to Paris to star in a period recreation of The vampires.

Carole Bethuel/HBO


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Carole Bethuel/HBO

HBO’s sneaky new series is confusing the film industry : NPR

In the miniseries Irma VepAlicia Vikander plays an actress who travels to Paris to star in a period recreation of The vampires.

Carole Bethuel/HBO

The new HBO miniseries Irma Vep is fascinating and unusual, but so is his lineage. It all started with a series of French silent films titled The vampires, made in 1916. This series was about an organization of criminals who terrorized Paris and called themselves the Vampires.

One of their leaders and inspirations was a woman named Irma Vep, who was evil and seductive, and often wore a tight jumpsuit. After over a century, I don’t think I need to issue a spoiler alert… but the letters in “Irma Vep”, when rearranged, spell the word “vampire”.

In 1996, French director Olivier Assayas hailed this soap opera by making a film called Irma Vep, about making a new film version of The vampires. Her movie within a movie starred Hong Kong movie star Maggie Cheung as herself, coming to Paris to play the role of Irma Vep. It was part comedy, part satire of the film industry – and had a lot to say about both the impact of cinema and the conflicts between creativity and commerce.

The level of creativity in the 1996 Irma Vep film was dazzling in itself. So why would the creator and director of this film, more than 25 years later, feel the need to revisit his own story? Based on the first four HBO episodes Irma Vep provided for the preview, the answer is clear: the film industry has changed dramatically in the meantime – but the types of people who make these films have not. And a TV miniseries, with more time to pursue subplots and enrich characters, makes this new Irma Vep even better than the original.

Alicia Vikander, Oscar winner for The Danish Girl and the star of Ex-Machinaplays Mira, the actress imported to Paris to play in this new period of recreation of The vampires. Vincent Macaigne plays her director, René, whom she only meets on her first visit to the set.

The HBO miniseries, like the Irma Vep film, recounts the difficulties encountered in editing a new version of The vampires. Again, as in the film, snippets of the vintage series are shown alongside new footage – only this time the recreations are more numerous and ambitious, and more beautifully filmed.

Everything looks sumptuous and charming. When Mira puts on her jumpsuit, she moves and acts like a possessed woman – which turns out to be part of the story. The various subplots have also been developed for this miniseries: actors who want meatier roles, producers with other motives or deals in play, and a Hollywood agent, played by Carrie Brownstein., which prompts Mira to star in a new superhero movie, as the female Silver Surfer.

It’s often very funny, but somehow it all seems believable. The same goes for all the romantic conflicts between the stars on camera and their assistants and crew members. It’s like a show business version of Downton Abbey, with people up and down constantly switching power roles.

Some scenes are playful and sexy. Others are downright funny, like when director René insists on his eight-part remake of The vampires is a film cut into small pieces – not a television series. There are very modern discussions of global box office blockbusters and intimacy co-ordinators – but it’s all presented not just with wit, but with genuine affection. Olivier Assayas was a French film critic before becoming a filmmaker, and he obviously loves what he does. With this new Irma Vep series, I also like what he does.


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