Thursday, October 7, 2010
Netflix Queue: 'Irma Vep'
When "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" came out on DVD nearly a decade ago, it had a great, compelling and dramatic movie to offer "Star Wars" fans. Unfortunately, it wasn't "The Phantom Menace." Instead, included among the extras, was an hour-long unnarrated "making of" documentary that proved far more dramatic and engaging in its depiction of George Lucas than anything Lucas managed to put up on the screen himself.
For whatever reason, though, I've never managed to get into movies or shows that purport to depict show business from behind the camera. "30 Rock" is an exception because it's not really about the creation of an SNL-type live comedy show; that just happens to be the workplace of your typical NBC workplace comedy. I can add another entry to my short list of exceptions: "Irma Vep," a 1996 movie from France.
A quick rundown: Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung -- playing herself, and doing so delightfully -- is brought to Paris to play the lead in the remake of a classic silent film about female vampires. The production proves a mess, undone by the failing powers of its once-great director and the petty jealousies that infect any small group of highly talented, highly competitive people.
Given such a description, "Irma Vep" sounds, perhaps, like one of your run-of-the-mill Christopher Guest mockumentaries. Being French, however, it so much more sensuous -- filled with scenes of driving through Paris streets at night, intensely evoking the bittersweetness of an unrequited crush. At one point, Cheung -- trying to connect to her character in the movie-within-a-movie -- dons a latex catsuit and climbs to the rain-drench rooftop of her hotel. Immediately, the viewer can see how much craft has been brought to the scene -- if only because we earlier saw how badly botched a similar effort was in the movie-within-a-movie. But such cleverness isn't the only thing going on here, because that would be merely cynical.
There's also celebration. Because, honestly: Watching Maggie Chung creep around in a catsuit in the dark rain is the reason movies were invented. The scene -- and the movie -- are unexpectedly beautiful.