'Just play yourself, "Maggie Cheung"': Irma Vep, rethinking transnational stardom and unthinking national cinemas

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Olivier Assayas's 1996 film Irma Vep is a comedy about French filmmaking in an era when first-world conceptions of 'film auteurs' and 'national cinemas' had long since been destabilized by the complexities of postcolonial nationalisms, television coproductions, and unprecedented global flows of people and capital. The film's comedy pivots on the casting of a Hong Kong star in the lead role in a highly disunified remake of Louis Feuillade's silent serial Les Vampires (1915-1916), which had just been restored and released on video in tandem with the 1995 centenary of French cinema. New-wave director René Vidal (Jean-Pierre Léaud) asks his star Maggie (Maggie Cheung) to keep her performance simple, not to act so much as to be herself, echoing Assayas's own direction that Cheung 'just play herself' in his film. This article addresses the implications of the direction to 'play' oneself by focusing on a nexus of three overlapping problematic issues: Irma Vep and Musidora as national icon, classical female actors as cinematic archetypes, and Cheung as a transnational star. Rather than placing the onus of bearing meaning (in the sense of national identity as it is mediated by cinema) on woman - whether she is icon, archetype, or star, the article argues that Irma Vep places this onus on the male Français de souche (Franco French) director, and that the film is less about remaking the past than it is about acknowledging the present, specifically the effects of emerging global orders on France and other first-world film industries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-232
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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