The Lure of the Series

On Film / The Daily — May 13, 2020
Maggie Cheung in Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep (1996)

Olivier Assayas, Sofia Coppola, and Paul Verhoeven are among the latest directors to announce that they’ve got long-form serial narratives in the works. At the Film Stage, Leonard Pearce reports that Assayas has told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn that he originally set out to write and direct just a few episodes of an eight-part series based on his 1996 feature Irma Vep. The lockdown, though, has given him time to write the entire series.

In the original feature—which you can watch on the Criterion Channel, by the way—Maggie Cheung plays a superstar of Hong Kong cinema who arrives in Paris to play the lead in a remake of one of the original film series, Louis Feuillade’s Les vampires, a massive hit when it rolled out in France from the fall of 1915 through the summer of 1916. Irma Vep is “on the surface, your basic backstage drama,” wrote Nick Pinkerton in the Village Voice in 2010. “It’s also a découpage of opinions, prejudices, name-drops, movies-within-movies, and symbolic castings, attempting to situate French filmmaking tradition at the fin-de-millennium.”

In 2012, the team at Slant put together a list of the best films of the 1990s, and Phil Coldiron called Irma Vep “one of the few films explicitly about filmmaking that manages to transcend its inevitable narcissism.” Assayas, whose previous work for French television includes the three-part drama Carlos (2010), says that the new series will be “pretty much in the mood of Irma Vep—meaning: foreign actors working in Paris—but using a little bit more of the remake of the Feuillade serial and having fun with that.”

Sofia Coppola is making her first foray into episodic storytelling with an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1913 novel The Custom of the Country, reports Variety’s Joe Otterson. The convoluted story centers on a young woman from the midwest who aims to marry her way into the higher circles of New York society. “Undine Spragg is my favorite literary anti-heroine and I’m excited to bring her to the screen for the first time,” says Coppola. Writing for the Berkshire Eagle in 2013, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes argued that Wharton “created an anti-heroine absolutely in the same rank as Becky Sharp, Scarlet O’Hara, or Lizzie Eustace. Undine has no values except ambition, greed, and desire, and yet through the miracle of Wharton’s writing, you are on her side. That’s what’s so extraordinary about the book.”

Paul Verhoeven launched his career in 1969 with a series for Dutch television, Floris, starring the late Rutger Hauer as a knight in the early sixteenth century. Now producer Saïd Ben Saïd, who has worked with Verhoeven on Elle (2016) and the forthcoming Benedetta, has tweeted word that Verhoeven is preparing an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel Bel-Ami, the story of a corrupt journalist’s rise to power. Verhoeven will direct all eight episodes written by longtime collaborator Gerard Soeteman. Deadline’s Tom Grater reports that the team is aiming to shoot in France in the summer of 2021.

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