“This is not my world.”

If you had asked me back in June what my thoughts were on Olivier Assayas’ new remake of his 1996 film Irma Vep, I would have told you, “watch it! Watch it immediately!” My friends can attests that I recommended it to them on numerous occasions upon watching each week’s newest episodes. This newest version of Irma Vep is not for the faint of heart, but rather those that find the magic in film—the artistic treasure of it. Those who are breathtakingly transported to a new world of wonder. 

Am I sounding too pretentious? Well, Irma Vep may be in that rather pretentious realm as the story centers around our main character Mira (Alicia Vikander), an actress disillusioned by the barrage of dull films being thrown her way. Blockbuster franchises beckon her, but she feels no more passion for her craft. One could say she’s even angered by the current status of her career. That, and the addition of her crumbled relationship with the gold-digging assistant turned lover, Laurie (Adria Arjona), who jumped into the hands of Mira’s last director, Herman (Byron Bowers). But alas, her newest project is an artistic one, an indie one. It’s a modern retelling of Les vampires—a silent French series, released in 1915, about a group of criminals directed by Louis Feuillade. In the hands of René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne), whose process is a bit much for even the most expert director, the series takes on a life of its own, taking its cast and crew along with it. The shoot is chaotic, leaving carnage in its wake as there’s one problem after another. If it’s not René’s antics, it the crew’s dissatisfaction with something, or maybe an actor almost getting violently injured for getting plunged down a flight of concrete stairs. But frankly, it’s Mira’s own self-identity that hinges at the center of the series as she becomes further immersed into the character she plays.

I tuned in each week looking to see what would happen next. As the story progressed, so did my curiosity. What would happen to each character? There were so many places the narrative could go. I was eating this up—this series remake of a movie about a movie. An inside look of the simple arthouse film. To say my hopes were dashed by the end would be an understatement. However, I wouldn’t go as far as to skip over the series entirely. 

Irma Vep escalates with overall drama that continues to plague the film, and Mira. I love seeing the fictionalized, but still rather true-to-life workings of a film set. The people that often don’t receive praise for their work like the assistant director to costume design and props—everything is brought to the forefront, warts and all. With a cast of mostly unknowns, it’s easy to watch this and see Alicia Vikander as the shining star. But even with the simplicity of their roles, everyone is able to add so much to the story. This is a true ensemble cast. And speaking of Vikander, and as a fan of her work, this may be my favorite character she’s ever played, or played in a long while. She’s strong, but at the same time, vulnerable—plagued by the decisions of her past. While Vikander has led a rather indie filmography, with a burst of blockbusters in her time, one could say that Irma Vep hits at the heart of her own career. 

But the real winner of Irma Vep’s cast is none other than Vincent Macaigne as the auteur director. He’s wacky, and challenges safety standards, but he’s also kind and a brilliant filmmaker. His masked heroine is more than just a character, it’s a symbol for all of cinema. It’s through him that Mira is able to find that passion for making movies again. 

But where Irma Vep goes right, it also goes wrong. While it builds in the first six episodes, the decline hits hard in the last two. There’s little to no satisfaction that really encompasses every problem that the film cast light on. Many situations in the characters’ lives were left open-ended, which left the series feeling a bit in a rush to just get things over with. In a way, viewers may be left with more questions than answers. 

So if you ask me about Irma Vep, what will I tell you? Well I would simply say, “watch it… when you get a chance.” The series that initially excited me in such a way between the satirical look at filmmaking, the actual scenes from the original 1915 series, and all the drama in-between, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. But let’s be clear, you really have to be in that niche “movie buff” category to enjoy this. And even with that, my interest diminished by the end. Dramatic, funny, and smart, Irma Vep could have been so much more with just a little fine tuning.  

Irma Vep

Written and Directed by: Olivier Assayas 

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Vincent Macaigne, Nora Hamzawi, Lars Eidinger, Devon Ross, Fala Chen, Jeanne Balibar, Adria Arjona, Byron Bowers, and Tom Sturridge

Rating: B-