There are series that are for me and I know it before I see them. It has nothing to do with whether they are good or bad, although one always prefers that the good ones be the ones that have that quality of liking before having hit play. Sometimes it is a simple recipe whose ingredients, all of them, make you salivate. The ingredients of Irma Vep are: Paris, cinema within cinema, TV within TV, Olivier Assayas and ‘Irma Vep’. Irma Vep from 1996. Also directed by Assayas, it is one of my favorite films by the French director, who in turn is one of my favorite filmmakers. Irma Vep, the series, is a satire on identity, cinema, the ego and vampirism as a concept. A quarter of a century later, Assayas recovers the story, making adjustments to it that in themselves abound in satire: in 1996 Irma Vep spoke of the shooting of a film and in 2022 of a series; then the diva, playing herself, was Maggie Cheung and now it is Alicia Vikander, as Mira, a more commercial Hollywood star who decides to star in a French series. Although its director refers to it as “a film cut into pieces”, that stupidity that we have heard so many times in recent years and that Olivier Assayas ridicules in the mouth of a self-conscious and insecure character who sees how his project is comes down.

Recently premiered on HBO Max, Irma Vep is so clear that it is a series that at times almost seems like a thematic season, more intense, more intellectual, of the wonderful Call my agent, French fiction about the goings-on of a talent representation agency . It has everything we ask of a series and everything we ask of an Olivier Assayas series: his subterranean sarcasm, his oblique gaze on France and the United States, and his perverse portrayal of desire. The one that consumes and poisons Mira and her ex-employee Laurie (a magnetic Adria Arjona) puts the series in a much more unhealthy orbit than it seems at first and, of course, than they could afford Call my agent or Entourage. From the director of Viaje a Sils Maria or The Summer Hours, one expects nothing less.

Irma Vep is Assayas’s return to a medium, television, which he played for the last time in 2010, with the extraordinary Carlos. Her vision of the story of Carlos, El Chacal, gave rise to a demanding miniseries that, for supposedly commercial reasons, underwent a remake to facilitate its exhibition in movie theaters. The result of this was in itself the perfect illustration of what is so tiresome about “a movie cut into pieces”: the television Carlos is splendid, the cinematographic one is a bad idea. With Irma Vep that doesn’t happen because the movie and the series are completely different. Each one is the indisputable product of her time, just as there is no actress more 1996 than Maggie Cheung or star more 2022 than Alicia Vikander.

Nor is there a series with more elements destined to please me before hitting play. After giving it, I still like Irma Vep. I like it better, actually.

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