Tuesday, 27 January 2015


Title: Diva
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Released: 1981
Starring: Frederic Andrei, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Roland Bertin, Richard Bohringer, Gerard Darmon, Chantal Deruaz, Jacques Fabbri, Patrick Floersheim, Thuy An Luu, Dominique Pinon, Dominique Besnehard

Plot: Jules (Andrei) is a postman obsessed with the opera singer Cynthia Hawkins (Fernandez) who refuses to allow her performances to be recorded, something Jules has secretly done while attending one of her performances. It’s also a recording which soon sees Jules on the run from Taiwanese gangsters who wish to claim the tape. Things only get worse when another tape containing the incriminating testimony which would expose a high ranking police officer as a racket boss is dropped into his postbag which a pair of dirty cops will do anything to get back.

Review: One of the first French films to break away from the realist trend which had dominated the 1970s, the film forming a new movement known as “Cinema du Look” which favoured style over substance and spectacle over narrative. While Beineix might have been the first to pioneer this new style of film making he would soon be joined by the likes of Leos Carax and Luc Besson who is probably the best known example with his early films such as “Subway” and “Nikita”. Unquestionably because of this style of film making it's an immersive viewing experience with as Beineix manages to not give us one film but two all wrapped up in one package as he gives us what is essentially a very satisfying art film, only to then throw in a crime flick as a tasty bonus. It’s a balance act that somehow he manages to pull off without ever sacrificing the effectiveness of one half or without the whole thing becoming overly confusing even if it does close in places especially when during the more artsy sequences.

The character of Jules while something of an oddball seeing how he’s the kind of guy who brings professional recording equipment to Hawkins concert, while only adding to already established obsession with the singer by stealing her dress after somehow managing to get backstage. He does eventually return the dress to Hawkins who despite initially being initially angry with him soon embarks on a romance of sorts with Jules. This of course being instead of the more logical choice which would have been to unleash a can of mace on him. No doubt this would have been the more realistic outcome of this situation, not that Beineix ever seems to be aiming for anything close to realism here of course.

Once he finds himself on the run from the various parties looking for the claim either of the two recordings in his possession and a situation which leads him to seek shelter with the bohemian artist Serge (Bohringer) and his cute French-Vietnamese muse Alba (Luu). This pair also have their own quirks with Serge spending most of his time either smoking in the bath of putting together huge jigsaw puzzles and generally not doing anything remotely artistic, all while his muse rollerskates around their open plan apartment. These kinds of scenes frequently appear over the course of the film, bringing with them little in terms of plot fulfilment yet their visual arresting nature makes them hard to besmirch.

Unquestionably the art direction of the film is superb with Beineix having an eye for detail, from the open plan apartments of Jules and Serge which resemble art installations more than actual homes. At the same time the smaller details such as the huge headphones the characters use, or Serge cutting onions while wearing a snorkel only heighten the experience, more so when Beineix never chooses to explain any of these moments nor draw attention to them by having characters comment on them.

The thriller aspects of the film revolving around the more incriminating of the two tapes are played fairly tight throughout with Beineix even managing to work in a fun chase sequence which sees Jules trying to escape the corrupt cops on his moped on a chase which not only takes him through the subway system of Paris, but onto a subway train as well. The whole scene seemingly being designed to constantly find ever more inventive places to take the chase as Jules rides down steps and through busy platforms while never once stepping of the bike.

Were the film does slip up slightly is with warehouse finale which despite having some tense moments, does become unintentionally comedic when bad guys are essentially being dispatched by turning the lights off and having them stumble into an elevator shaft. However when you consider some of the things that you have been willing to accept up to this point, it hardly seems like much of a stretch to accept this aswell.

True this film might not be for everyone but at the same time it’s not so out there that it’s inaccessible to those outside of the art house crowd as while its certainly surreal in places it’s never to the point where you’re unsure what exactly is supposed to be happening. Its colourful characters including Dominique Pinon as a dirty cop, who hates seemingly everything ensuring that, the film is anything but boring. At the same time for those who enjoyed the likes of Sofia Coppola “Lost In Translation” or more recently Spike Jonze “Her” which seemingly were modelled on the ideals of the “Cinema du Look” making this a more than fitting companion piece aswell as a fitting entry point into this fascinating era of French cinema.

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