The following is an introduction to a visions of europe screening of irma vep at the queen’s film theatre in belfast, in april 2024.
  I wanted to programme Irma Vep because it’s a film that I haven’t forgotten about since the moment I saw it, yet couldn’t remember the exact plot of, or found a reason for why I loved it so much. When the opportunity to introduce it came up, I of course leapt at the chance without knowing how to talk about the film.

So how do you introduce a film, which is about the making of a film, based on an even earlier film.

Well I think that there are certain moments in films that haunt you for the rest of your life, though you may struggle to explain why because they don’t seem to be what is called important or meaningful and what sticks in the memory are small sounds, looks and gestures and Irma Vep seems to be one of those rare films that is purely made up of these moments.

I won’t spoil these moments now because I want you to experience them for the first time fresh and unaware of their arrival.

Some background on the film, it was shot in just twenty days, on 16mm film cameras with no retakes and when you watch the film you will see that it has this urgency, that very few films have. It stars Maggie Cheung (in her first role outside of Hong Kong cinema in which she was already a star) playing herself, as she takes on the role of the titular Irma Vep in a modern-day remake of Feuillade’s Les Vampires series of silent films, to be directed by Jean Pierre Leaud’s René Vidal.

The film follows Maggie Cheung and the other cast and crew of the film as they try to make the film, often examining the filmmaking process; with its consistent budget issues, waking up early for crew calls, the DIY process of costuming and the sometimes-transformative nature of the costume for the actor but also for the viewer watching the actor. And the very nature of cinema itself – there are constant call backs to the earlier film, questions about the need for a remake, the role of documentaries and popular films in the culture and cinema’s constant struggle between commerce and art. The questions it poses are much more interesting and grounded than any answers you may derive from it. 

If you are familiar with French cinema, then you may know that French films are often funded through the state through the National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image, this is a system that taxes every film ticket sold in France along with other means, to support a national film industry that hopes to protect against the burden of a film having to be commercially minded or financially successful.

While this has allowed the country to have one of the richest, and boldest national cinema of anywhere in the world, this system has also been an easy target of ridicule, and there is a scene later in the film where Rene’s films are called navel gazing by a John Woo obsessed interviewer.

I will then for a moment turn to Olivier Assayas’ essay on the State of Cinema, delivered in April 2020, which was coincidentally around the same time that I saw Irma Vep for the first time.

I chose to devote myself to cinema, it was because of its majority status, because it was the last art form that profoundly resonated with society, that wasn’t trapped in its stronghold, that hadn’t suffered the overwhelming deviation of the visual art…

The cinema that inspired me, that I loved, that I have tried to practise myself is an impure and open cinema, particularly accessible to those for whom cinema is often the only opportunity to encounter art as vital and beneficial.

He goes on to speak very eloquently about the state of cinema today and its many issues that it faces, not only from streaming and the commodification of it as a product to inspire further sales, but I think the most vital thing that he mentions and what I took from it and what will I hope resonate in the film we are about to watch is that the most crucial thing, for filmmakers and cinephiles is to remain open, to rail against the convention of the day and to make an argument against the ideology of film as an closed academic thing, but instead as a living, breathing, spontaneous force that can change over time. We are still only in the first century of cinema as an art from, and it is crucial for filmmakers to protect their own voice and to be themselves.

The primordial appeal of films, lies not in our interest in the film’s subject matter or its formal presentation of that subject matter, but in the sheer delight of seeing moving things, film therefore when done well, is entirely alive.

I firmly believe that Irma Vep is essential and pure cinema and something that can only work within this medium. It wouldn’t work as a book, or a painting. It only works as a moving, living breathing thing, made on the fly, for a little bit of money with no real reason for existing than just for existing, living on feeling. It just feels right, and I hope you feel the same way.