Irma Vep Episode 4: “The Poisoner”

The following contains spoilers for Irma Vep Episode 4, “The Poisoner” (written and directed by Olivier Assayas)


What happened to Edmond?

At the end of last week’s episode 3 of Olivier Assayas’ eight-part HBO series adapting his 1996 film Irma Vep, the actor (played by Vincent Lacoste) passed out, apparently from an injury sustained during a stunt on set. His director, René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne), in search of an authentic portrayal of violence, had the actor tumbling down several flights of concrete stairs into a wicker trunk.

Or so it seemed, as Edmond emerged dazed and confused from the fall and the crew called for an ambulance.

Yet in episode 4, “The Poisoner”, there is no mention of the incident and Edmond seems his normal self – agitated by his lack of character prestige and motivation, as usual, but not at all injured or feeling unsafe.

I don’t know if this is a gap in the continuity of Assayas or if there is some trickery going on. But it sure seemed, given Vidal’s growing obsession with realistic, even “cruel” on-screen violence and his willingness to endanger his cast, that Edmond’s injury would impact production, would cause concern. its insurers, or at least would be dealt with in the next episode.

But it’s not, and we’ll have to wait and see if it ever will. “The Poisoner” begins with a huge set, a recreation of a lavish ballroom scene from Feuillade The vampires in which the vampires, led by Irma Vep, inject noxious gas through the vents, poison the guests, and then steal their jewelry. It’s a complex production with dozens of extras, a special cameo appearance and a stand-in for Mira during rehearsals.

MIra (Alicia Vikander) is waiting for her landline call. Photograph by Carole Bethuel/HBO

And there’s an important visitor on set, Gautier de la Parcheminerie (Pascal Gregory), to persuade Mira (Alicia Vikander) to sign a contract to promote the Dreamscape perfume, a deal that will pay handsomely but force Mira into a long series of promotional functions. “A real bargain,” he says. “No cinema.” It is clear that his company financed the production of Vidal, and Gautier expects satisfaction, both from Mira, with whom he has an established business relationship, and from Vidal, whom he clearly distrusts. Gautier suggests viewers may not find Vidal news Irma Vep “ingeworthy”, and relies on Vidal to pressure Mira into signing the contract.

Gautier’s task accomplished, he does not stay to watch the scene. Vidal, as always dismissive of on-set security concerns, asks his crew to “graze the heads” of the actors with the camera. The scene unfolds with the poisonous gas sending the partygoers into a panic before all succumb and the vampires, led by Mira as Irma Vep, enter the ballroom to begin the looting. So far, the title of this episode, borrowed like others from Feuillade, seems clear: Irma Vep in Vidal’s film is “The Poisoner”.

Perhaps the title is meant to be taken at face value. Or is someone or something else a “poisoner”?

Image of Irma Vep: Irma Vep and a fellow vampire stand in the doorway of a ballroom and watch poisoned revelers.
Irma Vep (Mira Harberg, right) and a fellow vampire survey the room filled with gassed partygoers. Photograph by Carole Bethuel/HBO

Later, in her dressing room, Mira continues her discussions with her Los Angeles-based agent, Zelda (Carrie Brownstein). Zelda wants to sweat Gautier and Mira sign on for the big budget Silver Surfer movie she is negotiating. Mira says “no”, clearly and emphatically, to the project, but Zelda rejects Mira. Let’s say Mira signs for $20 million…a low, but not unheard of, take for an actress in a big-budget blockbuster-Zelda itself is expected to earn some two million from the deal. Mira’s fame is a commodity that benefits not only herself but also her agent, the Irma Vep production, the Gautier company, and others.

When Mira later discusses the deal with her assistant Regina (Devon Ross), Regina tells her that Mira is a star who can “do whatever she wants”. Mira replies that she is a star precisely because agreements like Gautier’s and films like the Silver Surfer project. This is not a boast: it is a lamentation. Mira feels, as she said in the previous episode, “unfocused” and wants to get away from her stardom. She later tells Zelda, in a DM exchange, that she’s taking a step back from the project but doesn’t have the “peace of mind”. I have a feeling that Mira will find that walking away from stardom brings its own complications, for herself and for others.

Image of Irma Vep: René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne) directs an outdoor scene.
René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne) continues to encounter problems on the set of Irma Vep. Photograph by Carole Bethuel/HBO

Return to the set of Irma Vep, locations have been moved to an exterior shoot for a scene in which Gottfried (Lars Eidinger), playing the character of villainous Vampire-rival Moreno, follows the Vampires’ escapade. Gottfried refuses to wear a safety harness until he is threatened with a lawsuit by producer Gregory (Alex Descas). He obediently relents, and the scene places him on the roof of the vampires’ getaway car, rummaging through their loot and poaching jewelry for himself. He jumps out of the car safely with his loot. No one is hurt this time.

Like the shooting of Vidal Irma Vep continues, I find myself, as I had been with the film of Assayas in 1996, impatient to see the result of the production. So far, Vidal seems like an odd mix of silent film tropes, Victorian melodrama, serial cliffhangers, and modern cinematography. It’s hard, though thrilling, to imagine what the end product could be – if that production ever comes to fruition. Maybe HBO can release this series as well. I would be a game to watch! (By the way, in the 1996 film, Vidal, played by New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud, ultimately gave up much of his filming for an experimental, non-narrative, and decidedly non-commercial work inspired by surrealist Brakhage. vanguard.)

To play the role of Lily Flower, a new actress arrives in Paris: Cynthia Keng (Fala Chen), whose unassuming attitude echoes that of Maggie Cheung in the opening scenes of Assayas’ 1996 film. an ostensibly sexy maid costume with long stilettos, Vivian’s role in Irma Vep is to be hypnotized by Moreno. Mira, on the other hand, puts on the jumpsuit and immediately inhabits the feline grace of her character Irma Vep again, when suddenly the experimental film that Vidal d’Assayas had made in 1996 appears on the screen, with a Stylized montage of Maggie Cheung frolicking in her jumpsuit on the rooftops of Paris. Assayas freewheeling associations between The vampireshis 1996 movie, this 2022 series, and movies within movies of both may not make logical sense, but they never run out of plots.

Image of Irma Vep: Jade Lee (Vivian Wu) sits and faces the camera in an apartment.
Jade Lee (Vivian Wu) visits the dreams of René Vidal. Photograph by Carole Bethuel/HBO

And they continue to become more complex: it turns out that Vidal is dreaming. He wakes up feverishly, then awakely hallucinates a visit from his ex-wife Jade Lee (Vivian Wu), who ostensibly starred in his earlier Irma Vep film. (His fever dreams seem to be driven by Vivian’s arrival and Mira’s combination.) Distressed, he calls Mira to visit: though she’s suspicious – like a young female star might be that of a director at scantily clad and obviously distressed – the two discuss their issues. amicably. “Who am I to attack the work of Louis Feuillade? he asks. “Why touch him if nothing I do can get near him?” His ex-wife’s visit left him doubting himself and he tells Mira, “Only you can save him.”

Mira is clearly made uncomfortable by her addiction, but that rings true: her Irma Vep seems to depend on his Participation and performance. She is, after all, the star.

The episode features another sequence on the set of Irma Vep. Edmond, completely unscathed from the staircase incident, complains that he doesn’t have a personal assistant. Mira, meanwhile, looks fabulous in drag while once again adopting a disguise for The Vampires (Feuillade’s series was full of characters constantly donning guises and adopting tricks). So much so that when Zoe is ready to fire, Mira seems to obey. She returns the affection and agrees to some sort of date, but lets Zoe down hard at the end of the night. “Not tonight,” Mira said. “The next time.”

Will there be one? Or is Mira simply getting revenge on Zoe for the brutal dismissal her former lover and personal assistant Laurie returned to her in Episode 1? Mira has every right to say no to anyone at any time, but her actions here seem calculated. Her next personal encounter, meanwhile, doesn’t involve the word ‘no’: she wakes up in the middle of the night to a phone call from Eamonn, the former lover who is also on hand to shoot another movie in Paris. Inconsolable, he asks to visit her and soon arrives, wearing sunglasses and a raincoat. His partner, the famous singer Lianna, had a miscarriage. Neither could take time out of their careers to grieve with each other, and so here he is, in his ex-lover’s hotel suite.

Mira says the same thing happened to her, much earlier. The two kiss and Mira touches, then kisses, then steps over Eamonn at the end of the episode. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which mourning a miscarriage by immediately having sex with a former lover (and not the mother-to-be and current partner) works well for anyone involved.

Will the next episode address the fallout of Mira and Eamonn reconnecting? Mira’s flirtation with Zoe, or Regina’s crush on Mira, will they continue? Was there any fallout from the Edmond episode 3 incident, or was that scene somehow a ruse? And how will Vidal’s series progress, with the threat of funding being withdrawn and dissatisfaction with its cast mounting? Olivier Assayas may have more than a few questions to answer because Irma Vep begins its second half of its eight-episode run, but with its first four episodes, this series has continued to seduce and baffle, much like its famous eponymous character.


Episode 5 of Irma Vep“Hypnotic Eyes,” airs Monday, July 4 on HBO and HBO Max.

About Monty S. Maynard

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