Apr 072021

From time to time there are movies that I get to watch that I normally probably wouldn’t have heard of or passed by, and Irma Vep came as a pleasant surprise with a wholly engaging character-centric story.



Irma Vep
— The Criterion Collection —

Genre(s): Drama
The Criterion Collection| NR – 99 min. – $39.95 | April 27, 2021

Date Published: 04/07/2021 | Author: The Movieman

Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer(s): Olivier Assayas (written by)
Cast: Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Nathalie Richard, Nathalie Boutefeu, Alex Descas

Features: Featurettes, Interviews
Slip Cover: No
Digital Copy: No
Formats Included: Blu-ray
Number of Discs: 2

Audio: French (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 1.66
Subtitles: English SDH
Disc Size: 47.78 GB
Total Bitrate: 41.37 Mbps
Codecs: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A

The Criterion Collection provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post.
The opinions I share are my own.


Plot Synopsis: Washed-up French director René Vidal (JEAN-PIERRE LEAUD) hopes to turn his career around with an update of “Les Vampires,” a silent-era masterpiece about about a notorious ring of thieves, led by crafty female crook Irma Vep. René brings in Chinese star Maggie Cheung (MAGGIE CHEUNG) to play Vep, but unexpected roadblocks arise on the set. Maggie doesn’t know French; she’s pursued by obsessive lesbian crew member Zoe (NATHALIE RICHARD) and her character’s criminal ways begin to rub off on her.

Quick Hit Review: Admittedly, I’m no expert on French cinema, , so my perspective on the 1996 French drama Irma Vep is strictly from an entertainment point of view as some of the target, that of 1990s French cinema, did go over my head. But even as such, I found this to be a highly engaging look at a behind-the-scenes of chaos and dysfunction of an independent production (who knows how accurate).

Filmmaker Olivier Assayas (director behind Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper) does a great job showing the chaos in both frenetic yet still composed, combined that with the performances from Chinese actress Maggie Cheung, playing a version of herself, and Nathalie Richards, makes for an interesting character drama.

There’s a certain comfort while watching Irma Vep, even more so thinking about it hours or days later. It’s not a fantastic film nor all that insightful, at least from someone unfamiliar with French cinema, but it’s a fully engaging drama, with some comedy, and makes for a swift and breezy viewing with a short running time.



This two-disc release comes in the standard clear HD keep case. Inside is a fold-out booklet with an Essay by Critic Aliza Ma.

Disc One:

  • Olivier Assayas (28:36) — New interview recorded in 2021.
  • Olivier Assayas and Charles Tesson (33:45) — Recorded in 2003, the pair discuss their love of Asian cinema and how Maggie Cheung came to star in Irma Vep.
  • Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard (17:26) from 2003 recalling working on the film.

On Set of Irma Vep (30:00) — Fly-on-the-wall like behind-the-scenes footage.

Disc Two:
Les Vampires: Hypnotic Eyes (58:50)Les Vampires was a ten-part film serial and presented here is the sixth in the series and the inspiration for the film.

Musidora, The Tenth Muse (1:07:54) — 2013 documentary features family and friends of Musidora, as well as scholars, looking back on the life of the actor, musical-hall performer, and pioneering filmmaker, who originated the role of Irma Vep in the Les Vampires serial.

State of Cinema, 2020 (46:20) — Olivier Assayas gave an address titled “Cinema in the Present Tense” in June 2020.

Man Yuk: A Portrait of Maggie Cheung (5:00) is short film by Assayas made in 1997 as a commission for the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris.

Last up are some Black and White Rushes (3:52).


VIDEO – 4¾/5

Irma Vep arrives on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, with a new 1080p high-definition transfer culled from a new 2K digital restoration which was taken from the 16 mm and 35 mm original camera negative, which was approved by Olivier Assayas. There’s no mention what, if any, work was done but even so, this was an excellent looking picture. Detail is sharp and nicely defined throughout and although the noise and grain can be heavy, especially in darker scenes, still found it to have a near theatrical experience. I didn’t notice any major instances of dust marks, aliasing or other defects.

AUDIO – 4½/5

Similarly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track was also remastered from the 35 mm magnetic tracks. The lossless audio sounds smooth, dialogue coming across with good clarity, some decent depth for the music with ambient noises making use of the rear speakers.



From time to time there are movies that I get to watch that I normally probably wouldn’t have heard of or passed by, and Irma Vep came as a pleasant surprise with a wholly engaging character-centric story and wonderful performances from Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Robert. This Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection has great video and audio transfers and a good selection of bonus features.





Check out some more 1080p screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.

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