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Irma Vep

Olivier Assayas, 1996

Irma Vep is a French film directed by Olivier Assayas, which comments on French cinema and its place within the context of global cinema. Structured as a film within a film, Irma Vep sees actress Maggie (Maggie Cheung playing herself), having travelled to France from Hong Kong, play the role of Irma in the upcoming film.

A major aesthetic feature in the film is Maggie’s Irma costume, courtesy of costume designer, Françoise Clavel. A great deal of attention is given to this costume, which is based on the original costume (a black bodysuit) of the character Irma Vep, from Louis Feuillade’s crime serial Le Vampires.

Maggie’s costume, however, is given a contemporary, pop-culture edge. The costume, referred to as a catsuit, is inspired by Michelle Pfeiffer’s latex Catwoman suit from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Zoé (Nathalie Richard), Maggie’s costume designer within the film, produces a photograph of Pfeiffer’s Catwoman as a reference image for Irma’s bondage-esque costume.

Within Irma Vep, an interviewer remarks that he considers typical, intellectual French cinema to be boring and old. Therefore, the reference to an iconic costume from popular, contemporary American cinema works to place French cinema on the same stage of global success – a recurring theme throughout the film.


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