There’s an awful lot going on in “Irma Vep,” and while the four episodes provided for review are filled with intriguing and thoughtful conversations, the series regularly struggles to hold its own. One of the main reasons for this comes from an overwhelming number of characters, many of whom feel paper-thin. One of the seemingly endless conflicts that arises is between director René Vidal and Edmond (Vincent Lacoste), one of the actors on set. Edmond is constantly frustrated by his character’s lack of motivation, and he seems determined to complicate his director’s life at every turn. He’s also furious at his lack of screen time — which, on such a crowded show, might be a reasonable gripe for anyone. The problem with this dynamic is that it’s just plain underdeveloped – we learn so little about who Edmond really is that there’s nothing really about his character beyond the fact that he’s kind of diva. It’s an archetype that may have worked in early cinema – say, in the original “The Vampires” – but in a show seemingly determined to interrogate the characters’ inner psyches, it feels like a real bummer.
As Mira, Vikander is a compelling presence. His American accent is a bit abrasive at first, but it doesn’t take long to get used to. His interpersonal dynamic with others is thrilling, and his relationship with his ex-girlfriend and former assistant Laurie (Adria Arjona) is one of the most exciting parts of the first episode. It’s also a treat to watch Mira with the effortlessly cool young Regina (an excellent Devon Ross), as they seem to be two of the only characters who really understand each other. The actress’s assistant relationship is something Assayas has explored wonderfully before in “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” and it’s a bit of a shame that Mira and Regina’s relationship is such a minor part. of the series, but there are hints in the first four episodes that there is more to come later in the series.
The show struggles to let its most impactful moments feel important. Mira experiences a major personal breakthrough in the conversation with her ruthless agent in the fourth episode. It should be one of those big moments that makes you scream excitedly at your TV screen, but it’s so understated that you’d be forgiven if you didn’t even notice it at all. For some reason, the conversation takes place entirely via text – and it’s the only time this happens in the first four episodes of the series. Choosing to make such a pivotal moment happen via text feels completely out of left field, and it completely blunts what should be a big development for Mira’s character. It looks like a strange attempt to reference Assayas’ previous work ‘Personal Shopper’ – which features some of cinema’s most effective texting sequences – but in ‘Irma Vep’ there’s no reason for it, and therefore no impact on this bizarre choice.