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NewCityNet Irma Vep

By Ray Pride

MARCH 23, 1998:  Olivier Assayas' "Irma Vep" is an inventive, light-hearted take on French film history. For superficial francophiles, it's a 1990s "Day for Night"; other audiences should find it a breezy, bright comedy about work, lust and latex. There are layers and layers of film references, but there's no need to catch them all. Hong Kong's Maggie Cheung plays Hong Kong's Maggie Cheung, called to Paris by film director Jean-Pierre Leaud-a veteran of many films by Truffaut, Rivette and Godard and thus a mainstay of French cinema himself-who wants her to star in a contemporary remake of the 1915 silent serial, "Les Vampires," a favorite of the Surrealist movement in the next decade. But Leaud, a troubled soul in his own life, plays a director who's losing his mind (much as Rivette had a breakdown during a troubled period in the 1970s). Other members of the crew hover over the lovely, nimble Maggie, such as the wonderful Nathalie Richard as a lesbian costumer who must keep Cheung's latex catsuit limber and shiny. Assayas litters the script with funny asides about contemporary filmmaking. He also layers his briskly-paced movie with crisp slabs of pop music, ranging from Sonic Youth's "Dirty" to Luna's French-language cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie & Clyde." For one crowd, "Irma Vep" is another installment in the endless saga of monstrous egos and conflicting agendas on a film set. For others, it's the swink-fwacch, swink-fwacch sound of latex as Cheung slinks quickly through a corridor toward a jewelry robbery. By movie's end, you realize the players of all the backstage intrigue are the same as the gang of bandits from "Les Vampires"-battling, bickering, hypnotized and hypnotizing, the film crew are the true vampires.

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