Three episodes of Olivier Assayas’ “Irma Vibe” series with an insane cast – Alicia Vikander, Vincent McCain, Jane Ballbar, Vincent Lacoste – were presented on the Croisette. A chance to meet its creator.
Paris Match. Back in Cannes with the first episodes of a series on HBO, is there less stress?
Olivier Assayas. Yes sure. What’s very special is coming up with a movie that’s not finished yet, and I’m still working on the last two episodes (the series has eight and the first three were shown in Cannes). I love it, I am very happy to be here but I have my say in my work. I left editing to come here and will have to go back to work once the Cannes brackets are over. It’s totally schizophrenic. I have very strict deadlines to meet with the HBO announcer.
It’s fun because you casually say a movie, not a series… Renee portrayed the director’s character, “Irma Vape”. Did you design it as an 8-hour movie?
Let’s say I designed it like this. I always make movies the same way, with the same team and the same people. I obviously enjoy formatting. But it is true, in a way, that the debate is more indicative than real. This series tells a story that has a beginning and an end. I want to say that it is more like a big novel, with a true narrative, and one story, but it is divided into chapters. After that, people use whatever words they want.
Cinema has changed
What is the difference between the original ‘Irma Vep’ and the new ‘Irma Vep’?
My first Irma Vape was an experimental movie. It’s a movie that I literally made with no money, there was no one telling me to act as it was or to act as such, with a purpose and form that were completely unique to French cinema at the time. With HBO, the real question was: Do we really agree that this is going to be the movie I want to make? I don’t want to be held hostage by narrative codes, algorithms, and everything that invades streaming cinema, or rather streaming TV. I found partners who fully understood what I wanted to do and who wanted this project. They gave me real freedom.
Specifically, why return to the “Irma Vape”?
Suppose I had the impression that cinema had changed and that the world had changed. And I found it interesting, basically, to use the starting point for “Irma Vep” and it’s a very basic one. A foreign actress arrives in Paris and finds herself faced with the confusion and chaos of filming. This can result in all kinds of differences. It is a film that presents the possibility of dialogue between the present of cinema and the history of cinema. And then, above all, he wonders how the ghosts of the past haunt the cinema. I hope this is done in a relatively playful way. Reproducing the Feuillade series with strange stories is a joy that I would like to share with the viewer. Then I wanted to find a comedy tone.
“Irma Vape” is also a documentary about the life of an actress in Hollywood today.
Let’s say this is the world I live in. This allows me to show how cinema has transformed and how it should deal with agents, fashion brands, the status of an actress, including through the way she is online, etc., is something that has always intrigued me and transforms cinema.
There is a fairly obvious interaction between the mirrors and the character of Rene, played by Vincent McCain. Have you ever tried to overwrite an actor?
No, no, no, no, no (laughs). Vincent also enjoyed my tradition. We enjoyed it. I’m not Renee’s character, but I do ask myself similar questions to him. I share the same limits, the same fears, the same questions.
How did you manage to impress such an actor?
It could have happened by itself. Written for Alicia Vikander (who plays the lead role). She was part of the project from the start, I knew Vincent would be Renee. I haven’t seen any other actor who can do what I ask of him. And Jane Balibar was also to me the actress who could bring that kind of craziness, as Natalie Richard did in the original movie. Then, since there were so many roles, more so than in any normal movie, it was an opportunity for me to work with people I had seen in the cinema or whom I met but hadn’t been able to work with until then. After my previous movie that was entirely with Hispanic actors, it was like going back to basics. Irma Vape is an American hybrid film project whose heroes and their freedom prefer French independent cinema.
Do you have complete freedom?
Yes, frankly, they do as the producers do, that is, they have comments, they have feedback, they send lists of recommendations. They are much more technical than the French producer, with whom you will be discussing a film. Many people see the episodes and recommend editing changes, scene flipping, and a line to rework because the sound isn’t good. It is very technical and therefore it takes pages and pages. Honestly, three-quarters of it is useless (laughs) and pointless. But here and there a good idea enriches the film. But it’s not intrusive at all, it’s a way of helping me make the best movie possible.
I feel a great love for French cinema from its origins
The film cites a number of works. Is the goal to “develop” American public opinion?
Let’s say there are things that go without saying. When I talk to you, movie buff, things are clear. There are dialogues that I might not put into a purely French movie. Yes, certain things need to be made clear to the American public, and not just to the American public, but to an audience around the world. It is worth noting Musidora. She is not mentioned in the first Irma Vape but two books about her have since been published and we realize that she has talked about portraying vampires, and that she has told her affair with Foylad. Little did I know that she made films herself, or that she was a film critic, that she painted, that she was one of the important artists of the origins of French cinema. I gave it a place that wasn’t there in the original story.
In the series excerpts from the original films. Was it important to show it specifically to an international audience?
I have a great love for French cinema since its inception. For me, he has a charm that cinema has lost. It has always been an inspiration, silent cinema was made by people whose imagination was not from the cinematic imagination, that is, their experience of the image was before the advent of cinema. The imaginative rendition was created by reading some images, by drawing, but basically it was the subconscious that spoke a certain way that cinema did not colonize. Today the subconscious is colonized by cinema, our relationship with images. Therefore, suddenly, he completely changes the relationship with the imagination. And again, silent cinema gives us a kind of window on the imagination before the cinema. Since there was no model, everything was new, and everything was empty. Now, we live in a world where there are only rules, and scenario clues that in my opinion are shattering cinema.