|The Orb, Twin Peaks (series 3)|
A scene setting comparison.
It was so far off-piste that you didn’t quite know what you’d seen. The summary hardly helps.
|Regina (Devon Ross) Irma Vep 2022|
In Episode 6 of Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep a similar revelation takes place. The eight part series is basically a tale of making a remake of Louis Feuillade's 1915-1916 serial, an enormous hit in its day and a continuing source of inspiration and study for film-makers and scholars alike. Director Rene Vidal (Vincent Macaigne) is making a series, though in his view he is echoing Feuillade and making a single long film, which will go out in parts on TV. But he is hyperactive and slowly being overcome by low self-esteem.
By part 6 he has gone off his rocker, abandoned the sets and locations and cant be found. We the audience see him heading off to see his psychiatrist (with a calico bag from Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato over his shoulder). Discussions take place about a replacement director and settle on the American Herman (Byron Bowers). He’s in LA and needs a day or so to get to Paris. Step up Regina (Devon Ross), aspiring film-maker, film school graduate and the young, wise, if cold, personal assistant to Mira (Alicia Vikander) an American star actress who has been brought to Paris to play Irma Vep and brings with her a busload of complexes and a chequered romantic history .
With a prospect of directing for a day Regina then launches into an explanation of spiritual cinema, or maybe just the spiritual and Assayas explodes the screen with Regina’s short treatise on the work, influence, imagery and purpose of the cinema of Kenneth Anger. I’m betting most of the audience have absolutely no idea who Anger is/was or any experience of his movies. They may even think all those hallucinatory image excerpts have been created as a spoof by Assayas himself. But Regina gets the job. She’ll direct a day (presumably uncredited but who knows these days) of the new version of Feuiilade’s Les Vampires currently being shot, in English, in Paris. The best of many offhand cinephiliac observations dotted throughout comes from Mira when she's discussing Feuillade's original. "It's not like Feuillade is Dreyer or Lang." Some would disagree about the film-maker whom, in David Thomson's words, is "the first director for whom no historical allowances have to be made."
|Irma Vep played by Alicia Vikander (top, 2022), |
Maggie Cheung (middle, 1996), Musidora (bottom, 1916)
Assayas burrows into Feuillade's film-making incorporating Feuillade's original and references to his previous 1996 feature with Maggie Cheung, out of which came a marriage to his star, an event which also seems to be reflected on with some regret. Macaigne also plays Feuillade in the sequences drawn from Musidora's autobiography and which recreate filming back in the day, a time when actors had to accept far more physical risk most notably shown in the sequence where an entire train passes over her as she lies on the track, another where she is actually shot and another where she goes to see the Paris Chief of Police who has closed down production after hearing that it might contain something far too risqué
René Vidal may or may not be close to the way Assayas directs his films but whatever that truth you get the feeling that over the four hundred minutes of the series there is a lot of Assayas autobiography packed into it. Squabbles with stars, producers, insurers and backers form sub-plots in each episode. Gottfried (Lars Eidinger) who is playing Moreno even manages, quite without remorse, to near kill himself performing a private auto-erotic act with a noose.
|Hannah Lynch, Petrol|
Something similar happens with Alena Lodkina’s Petrol. There is no noose equivalent but its about film-making and the magic of it. And specifically the problems faced by a young film-maker grappling with her life as well as her movie. The film has had screenings at Locarno and MIFF in recent times and will likely be on SBS and its channels and streaming service in the near future. Lodkina doesn’t bring over forty years of film criticism and film-making to the table as Assayas does. This is her second feature, made on a shoestring with a cast of unknowns. As Assayas brings out the beauties of Paris, Lodkina finds a small scale equivalent in the back lanes and terraces of a tiny part of Melbourne. But she does share with Assayas a sense of fun, mystery, intrigue and cinematic reference. Her god is the enigmatic Andrei Tarkovsky, not the most humorous of beings but one who revelled in spectacle and magic. She does not explain what the title means. “The evasively titled Petrol” one critic called it.
|Penelope Cruz, Official Competition|
Meanwhile lingering around the art houses is a Spanish film called Official Competition, another reflection on modern film-making. It shares one trope with Irma Vep. Production funds are coming from a big corporation. In the French movie it’s all about selling perfume. In the Spanish it’s all about the self-aggrandisement of the billionaire pharma manufacturer who wants a place in the limelight. Penelope Cruz plays a director who, to provoke her two leading players, puts their awards through a metal grinder and runs rehearsals with humiliation of her actors as a key purpose. I guess there’s a place for it….