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directed by Olivier Assayas
France 1996

"Cinema is not magic.

It is a technique and a science.

A technique born of science and the service of a will.

The will of the workers to free themselves."

Ten years after he made his feature debut with Disorder in 1986, Olivier Assayas decided it was time to turn his attentions to the French film industry for his sixth picture. Written in ten days, and shot in less than a month, Irma Vep provides a mid-nineties amalgam of François Truffaut's Day for Night and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore.

French filmmaker René Vidal (
Day for Night's Jean-Pierre Léaud) is commissioned by a TV company to direct a remake of Louis Feuillade s classic silent-era serial, Les Vampires. Maggie Cheung (playing a version of herself) is cast in the central role and heads to Paris for filming where she finds herself amid the chaos of artistic differences, petty rivalries and the immense egos which make up a film set.

Irma Vep is Assayas at his lightest and most playful simultaneously a gently satirical dig at the state of French cinema and a love letter to his female star.

***

But if the Denbys, the Janet Maslins, and the Anthony Lanes are supposed to be our urbane guides to the state of world cinema, Irma Vep is at best only one example of the sort of films that elude their grasp. Despite Denby's pronouncements, this is a movie that could be taking place almost anywhere in the world. Most of the dialogue is in English, and though the film within the film happens to be a remake of a silent French classic--Louis Feuillade's glorious 1916 serial Les Vampires--the behavior and attitudes in Irma Vep have more to do with 1996 filmmaking in general and what this says about the world than they do with French filmmaking at any time and what this says about "the French."

Excerpt from Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader located HERE

Posters

Theatrical Release: September 6th, 1996 - Toronto Film Festival

Reviews                                                                                More Reviews                                                             DVD Reviews

 

Comparison:

Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL vs. Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

1) Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC LEFT

2) Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray RIGHT

 

Box Covers

 

Coming to Blu-ray by Criterion in April 2021:

Distribution Fox / Lorber  Region 1 - NTSC Second Sight Films Ltd. - Region 2 - PAL Zeitgeist. - Region 1 - NTSC Arrow
Region 'B' -
Blu-ray
Runtime 1:34:30  1:34:36 (4% speed-up)  1:34:45 1:38:47.588
Video 1.66:1.00 Letterboxed WideScreen
Average Bitrate: 6.14 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s
1.66:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.78 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s
1.66:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.72 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 48,287,110,117 bytes

Feature: 29,079,620,544 bytes

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Total Video Bitrate: 31.47 Mbps

Bitrate:

Fox/Lorber

Bitrate: 

Second Sight

Bitrate: 

Zeitgeist

Bitrate: 

Blu-ray

Audio French and English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)  French and English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)  French and English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo) 

DTS-HD Master Audio French 3091 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3091 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
LPCM Audio French 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit
Commentary:

Dolby Digital Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps

Subtitles English (non-removable for French dialogue) English (non-removable for French dialogue) English (removable but for French dialogue only) English, none
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Fox / Lorber

Aspect Ratio:

Widescreen letterbox - 1.66:1

Edition Details:
• All Regions
• Color, Widescreen, Dolby
• Production notes
• Theatrical trailer (1:19)
• Widescreen letterbox format

DVD Release Date: March 31, 1998
Keep Case
Chapters: 6

Release Information:
Studio: Second Sight

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1

Edition Details:

• Man Yuk (4:54)
• Interview with Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard (17:24)
• Interview with Charles Tesson and Olivier Assayas (33:44)
• Trailer (1:20 min) 

DVD Release Date: March 31st, 200
8
Keep Case
Chapters: 16

Release Information:
Studio: Zeitgeist

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1

Edition Details:

• 'Commentary' track (Q+A with Assayas and film critic Jean-Michel Frodon)
• 'On the Set' with optional Audio Essay (29:58)
• Man Yuk (4:54)
• Black and white Rushes (3:52)

• French Trailer (1:20 min) 

DVD Release Date: December 9th, 200
8
Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 16

Release Information:
Studio:
Arrow

 

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 48,287,110,117 bytes

Feature: 29,079,620,544 bytes

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Total Video Bitrate: 31.47 Mbps


Edition Details:

Audio commentary by writer-director Olivier Assayas and critic Jean-Michel Frodon
On the Set of Irma Vep, a 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with optional commentary by Assayas and Frodon (30:01)
Interview with Assayas and critic Charles Tesson (33:46)
Interview with actors Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard (17:46)
Man Yuk: A Portrait of Maggie Cheung, a 1997 short film by Assayas (4:57)
Black and white rushes (3:54)
Theatrical Trailer (1:25)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Neil Young
 

Standard Blu-ray case

Blu-ray Release Date: April 24th, 2018

Chapters:
13

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were obtained directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray April 18': Arrow's new Blu-ray transfer is advertised as a "2K restoration from the original negative, supervised and approved by Olivier Assayas". It looks great on a dual-layered disc with a high bitrate in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. There is plenty of rich grain - shot on 35mm with some footage from the 1915 film Les Vampires as well as a few Indie-primitive effects  and video of Maggie Chung in other films to reflect the film-within-a-film milieu. This is a mighty leap beyond the DVDs and shows a shade more information in the frame. Colors also benefit with the 1080P being thicker and richer but the prevalence and consistency of grain is the major beneficiary.

Audio gives the option of a linear PCM 2.0 channel or a DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround (24-bit.) There are effects in the film, rain and the brief clips of martial arts but not a preponderance of separation. There is a variety of music in Irma Vep including Luna's Bonnie and Clyde (written by Serge Gainsbourg), Sonic Youth, Ali Farka Touré with Ry Cooder as well as Silvio Rodríguez. The music adds a 'cool' atmosphere to Assayas' film and it sounds excellent in the uncompressed. Arrow include optional English subtitles on their Region 'B' Blu-ray disc.

Arrow include most of the extras of all the DVDs starting with the non-scene specific audio commentary by writer-director Olivier Assayas and critic Jean-Michel Frodon as found on the 2008 Zeitgeist and they also share the 1/2 hour On the Set of Irma Vep, a 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with optional commentary by Assayas and Frodon plus the 5-minute Man Yuk: a portrait of Maggie Cheung, a 1997 short film by Assayas. Duplicated from the Second Sight DVD is the 33-minute interview with Assayas and critic Charles Tesson and the 18-minute interview with actors Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard. The UK DVD and Arrow Blu-ray also have the 4-minutes of black and white rushes - and lastly, a trailer. The Arrow offers a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain and for the first pressing only - an illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Neil Young.

Still so wonderful after all these years.   was recently discussing favorite Olivier Assayas' films - and there are many but this has a special place and probably retains first spot. I was thrilled when it was announced on Blu-ray and , despite any new digital extras, love watching and owning this unique film. Our highest recommendation!! 

***

ADDITION: Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC - November 08': I would love to have proclaimed this one of the many candidates for DVD of the Year in our year-end poll. Alas, although it has some bountiful extras features - it is interlaced (see combing) and/or from an unconverted PAL source (see times). It is anamorphic, dual-layered and in the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It has a slim black border on the top of the image... but not on the bottom.

For CRT viewing this Zeitgeist edition should be fine - it resembles the Second Sight transfer but is housed on an NTSC DVD creating all the associated artifacts and liabilities of that incorrect standards practice. I suspect that this was all that Zeitgeist were supplied and although we don't endorse for the image transfer - the extras are significant enough that fans will appreciate. Ohh... the Zeitgeist's subtitles appear to be totally removable but are only translating the French dialogue of the film. They are also not as gargantuan as the PAL edition.

The 'Commentary' track is really a recorded Q+A with Assayas and film critic Jean-Michel Frodon running along side the film. It never discusses specific scenes and is not relevant to the film running simultaneously but it is extremely interesting with Assayas delving into his own personal approach to art and what formed his practices etc. 'On the Set' is about 30 minutes of behind the scenes footage and it includes the option to play with an audio essay. This relates more keen points on Irma Vep and the video footage is pretty cool. Man Yuk, also available on the Second Sight disc, is an artistic homage to Maggie - it is short at less than 5 minutes. Finally we get 4 minutes of black and white rushes from Irma Vep. There is a 16-page liner notes booklet included with 2 essays by Assayas and another by Kent Jones.

This film has a significant enough niche that we can still hope for a superior transfer one day. I appreciate Zeitgeist's efforts at getting this disc out despite my feelings regarding the image. Is it worth the extras alone? I definitely think so. So, from that standpoint it is recommended  

***

ADDITION: Second Sight - PAL - April 08': Obviously not much of a comparison but I am intrigued and might purchase the French edition because, although, the Second Sight easily bests the old Fox/Lorber (released exactly a decade previous - to the day!), I still feel the image quality is on the weaker end of the scale (I've seen the film enough times to know the French dialogue) - although this may be as good as the available source prints allows. On the positive this UK edition is anamorphic in-and-around the original 1.66:1 ratio. It is also progressive and on a dual-layered disc. Similar to the US edition - the subtitles are non-removable for French dialogue.

There are some nice inclusions as bonus extras. Man Yuk is a kind of weird portrait of Maggie Chung - very much in the vein of the stylistic ending of Irma Vep. There is a 20 minute interview with Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard and another with Charles Tesson and Olivier Assayas running over a half-hour (both are English subbed). Finally we have the same trailer available from the F/L.

An easy decision indeed and a viable purchase if you are anywhere near as big a fan of this film as I. There is so much to enjoy about it, as Assayas had the universal tumblers all click into place - something he hasn't seemed to duplicate since.

NOTE: There is also a Panorama (region 3) - joke of an edition reviewed HERE.

ON THE FOX/LORBER: This is a standard Fox Lorber release... meaning that it is of very poor quality. The non-anamorphic, single-layered DVD picture exhibits a yellowish/washed out hue at times. It is also hazy throughout and on separate monitors showed pixilation. There is combing visible (non-progressive) and looks to be from a unconverted PAL port. Extras include a short trailer and text screen notes (bio's etc.) To my knowledge this is the only DVD version of this film presently available and it is about the same level as a VHS tape. Come on Region 2 France/UK get this one out with English subtitles. I give the F/L DVD     out of         

Gary W. Tooze


Recommended Reading in French Cinema (CLICK COVERS or TITLES for more information)

The Films in My Life
by Francois Truffaut, Leonard Mayhew

French Cinema: A Student's Guide
by Philip Powrie, Keith Reader
Agnes Varda by Alison Smith Godard on Godard : Critical Writings by Jean-Luc Godard Notes on the Cinematographer by Robert Bresson Robert Bresson (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 2)
by James Quandt
The Art of Cinema by Jean Cocteau French New Wave
by Jean Douchet, Robert Bonnono, Cedric Anger, Robert Bononno

Check out more in "The Library"


DVD Menus

(Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL RIGHT)

 

 
 

Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC

Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 


CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Subtitle Sample

 

1) Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

Screen Captures

.

1) Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


1) Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


1) Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


1) Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


1) Fox/Lorber Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

More Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray Captures

 

Report Card:

 

Image:

Blu-ray

Sound:

Blu-ray

Extras: Blu-ray

 

Box Covers

 

Coming to Blu-ray by Criterion in April 2021:




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Gary Tooze

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