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Irma Vep - What We Know So Far

Television only really became a part of humans' everyday lives in the post-WW2 period, but that doesn't mean the craving for the kind of storytelling it offered didn't already exist before it. It's just that, before we had screens in our homes, that craving was answered by the movies themselves: A major relic of the pre-TV times was the "film serial," which took early-20th-century audiences on lengthy, complex, deeply engaging multi-installment journeys much like the ones now provided by TV series.

For a long time, the king of serials was French director Louis Feuillade, who used the format to create some of the world's most popular films in the 1910s. One of those films, 1915's "Les Vampires," is a particularly revered classic of early cinema, a grand feat of suspense and gripping storytelling that directly influenced the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. In a testament to the shadow it cast over film history, "Les Vampires" inspired another French classic made 81 years later, Olivier Assayas's "Irma Vep" — a bizarre meta-film starring Maggie Cheung as herself in a story about an actress caught up in an ill-fated attempt to remake Feuillade's masterpiece.

Now, Assayas is bringing things full circle by adapting "Irma Vep" stateside into an HBO series. For the famously forward-thinking director, this will certainly be an opportunity to explore deeper philosophical questions about the nature of cinematic images and stories, with the added benefit of a format even more reflective of the original "Les Vampires." Here's what we know so far about this intriguing project.

When will Irma Vep be released?

The original "Les Vampires" hit theaters in several episodes between November 1915 and June 1916, and Olivier Assayas' "Irma Vep" premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival before reaching general audiences in November of the same year. As an HBO series, the new "Irma Vep" is likely to hew closer to the former film's release model, but that's about all we can say with regard to its release at this point. No release date has been announced by either HBO, production company A24, or Assayas himself.

If we look at the project's history so far, the first time Olivier Assayas revealed he was working on a TV series adaptation of "Irma Vep" was in May 2020, during a panel with IndieWire. At the time, all we knew was that A24 was on hand and that Assayas was writing every episode. Then, in December, it was officially reported that HBO had ordered an "Irma Vep" limited series (via Deadline) with Assayas as writer and director. Other than that, we still don't know a lot of production details about "Irma Vep." Assayas is a highly experimental filmmaker, so it's difficult to even speculate on a possible production timetable. All we can say is that, with casting announcements in full swing, it's quite possible that filming will commence sooner rather than later, which would place a likely release period somewhere in 2022. Stay put for further announcements from HBO in the meantime.

Who is in the cast of Irma Vep?

Academy Award-winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander is set to be the star and one of the executive producers on HBO's "Irma Vep." Vikander is playing Mira, who, much like Maggie Cheung's fictionalized self in the 1996 original, is a foreign actress getting acquainted with the French film industry — only she hails from the United States instead of Hong Kong.

On July 19, several more casting announcements were made, per Deadline: Carrie Brownstein is playing Zelda, Mira's agent, who has "has far more lucrative offers for Mira" than the "Les Vampires" remake; Adria Arjona is playing Laurie, "Mira's ex-assistant and girlfriend" with whom "things didn't end well;" Jerrod Carmichael is Eamonn, Mira's ex-boyfriend who hasn't since her since their breakup; Fala Chen plays Cynthia Keng, "a rising star from Hong Kong hired by René Vidal to play Irma Vep's provocative accomplice;" and Devon Ross will play Revina, Mira's current assistant, described as "a cinephile who soon will direct her first feature." No actor has been announced for the role of director René Vidal, a character who was played by French New Wave legend Jean-Pierre Léaud in the 1996 original.

What will Irma Vep be about?

"Les Vampires" told an intricate crime thriller story about a gang of underground criminals who terrorized Paris while being investigated by — and constantly eluding — authorities. Among those criminals was the wicked, latex-clad Irma Vep, played by French actress Musidora in one of silent cinema's most iconic performances. Olivier Assayas' "Irma Vep," meanwhile, put a highly meta, hard-to-summarize spin on that story, in which an outsider actress's acclimation to the set of a French crime thriller film soon became itself a crime thriller story, as the "Vampires" remake's production fell apart, its plot intruding on real life and vice-versa.

By the looks of it, HBO's "Irma Vep" is following a similar plotline. According to Deadline, the show is "set against the backdrop of a lurid crime thriller" and follows "an American movie star disillusioned by her career and a recent breakup," who arrives at France to play Irma Vep in a remake of "Les Vampires," much like Maggie Cheung in the 1996 film. Then, "Mira struggles as the distinctions between herself and the character she plays begin to blur and merge."

The original film was celebrated in part for its perfect, hallucinatory usage of a lean 97-minute runtime, which makes Assayas' decision to refashion it for a lengthier, more plot-driven medium like TV especially intriguing. Whatever he's got in store, we can expect him to again cast an unflinching eye over the contemporary film industry; in Assayas' own words, "This is a comedy that will try and catch the zeitgeist the same way the original 'Irma Vep' did, in a very different world, a very different era, that right now feels light years away."