The Ring that Kills
We saw in the last episode how Greg warned Rene about his insurance. Zelda, Mira’s agent, warns her that the show might just wrap up due to the issue. These rumors are nipped in the bud in the very next sequence.
Episode 2 of Irma Vep starts with the insurers demanding that Rene continue taking the drugs to keep his “disease” in check. Creators have ladened Vincent Macaigne with a responsibility to create an image of Rene that is perceived by us as delusional.
Through the episode, we see him shortchanged in terms of satisfaction. He is constantly lashing out, and being abrupt with people. While with the insurer’s rep, he also calls the series a “film”, and he does not do “series”. Rene also lashes out at Phillipe, engaging in a physical brawl with him. It seems that this approach has been decided to showcase his – and to extension, the French’s – obsession with their culture and art. Small cues like his strict directions to the actors during scenes also weigh in on the point.
In more vivid detail, we see the production crumbling. Cracks begin to appear in the cast and the crew’s relationship with Rene and Greg. Edmond, who plays Phillipe, is unhappy with Rene for not including a scene that shows his character’s grief over Marfa’s, his great love, death. Rene and Edmond have a physical brawl, akin to a comedy than an action movie.
The bizarre set of events give way to the arrival of actor Gottfried von Schack. He is a crack addict and asks Carla, the crew member who picked him up from the station, to get him some crack. If she isn’t able to, he will not be able to act.
She reveals this to Zoe, who helps in getting the drugs. There is a flirtatious and affectionate buildup between Zoe and Mira, which at this stage, seems harmless. We will see where it goes. Zoe is an important character and pivotal to the production running smoothly. Will her rebellious spirit withstand the bureaucracy’s stout and smothering traditions?
The Original and Adaptation
As was choreographed in episode one, Marfa performs on the stage with her prosthetics. The Grand Vampire is in attendance and witnesses the planned and shocking death of Marfa. She is poisoned via the ring that was presented to her in the previous episode. As he walks out, Philippe follows.
Only, this happens to be a trap set by the Grand Vampire to abduct him. He is taken to jail and informed that the Inquisitor will visit him. He is an important figure who takes the story forward.
The jailer brings him in, and just as the Inquisitor is about to begin his process, the jailer frees Phillipe. They are able to neutralize him and steal his red codebook. We then see that it is a jackpot that contains all the secrets of the Vampire. Phillipe is in deep study, trying to decipher the codes. He is successfully able to do so and locates the Vampire’s lair. He goes undercover.
Although he tries his best, he is mesmerized by Irma’s performance – also the first the audience would have seen Mira as Irma. She is hired by Philippe’s mother as a maid. Unbeknownst to Philippe, she slips a sedative into his herbal tea.
Another burglar jumps in and Irma uses the chaos to exchange the codebooks. The scene ends as the title for the next episode shows up.
The Episode Review
‘Irma Vep’ has clearly chosen a path to follow. The direction it takes suggests that a more critical look at its substance will yield the desired impact from the creators. The series-within-the-series trope is not very director, or exciting, as the norm has been. It has a more ‘cinema verite’ vibe, something not too popular among the masses. And, apparently, me.
The plot seems too complex and detached for me to engage with it. It does not help that most characters are narcissistic individuals, seldom throwing themselves on the line to look out for others.
Director Olivier Assayas has until now avoided granular nitpicking of situations and emotions. It stays intact in the bubble of the show’s universe. But his adaptation is too self-indulgent. Maybe Rene is a metaphor for his own personality. It would be a pretty good one for sure.
For most parts of this episode and the previous one, Assayas comes across as confused more than anything. If he does see the series in real life as a film, he’s fast coming short of ideas. Some observant undertones about the fame protest in the industry are expected from every French production. It is in their nerves to be so defiant and bold with what they do.
Another thing that the show has done well till now is to gracefully capture the feeling that the current production is nothing but a cheap imitation of the original, which was beautiful mystical, and empowering. This trope is fleeting in the show in the episode and it looms over the production.
Not like a talisman but a voodoo doll twitching the wrong way. It does not come out in a tangible form but the very fact that they have this feeling in the corner of their minds shows the doubt that creators feel when they adopt something original. Hopefully, the next one is an improvement.