DIVA - Jean-Jacques Beineix's debut – is the wonderfully stylish thriller from 1981, with a new 35 mm print and new English subtitling, that apparently conveys the film's wry humor more effectively than the previous one. With multiple awards, including a Cesar for best first film, Diva inspired the Cinema du look movement of the 1980's with a hip visual style, and a focus on young disenfranchised characters. Beineix was 35 when he directed DIVA, and had worked as an assistant director for the ten years before.
Starting from the opening scenes, Phillippe Rouselot's camera shots –interesting angles, and in some cases, a moody haze – seem aimed at captivating the audience. Jules (Frederic Andrei) is the young courier who is obsessed with American diva Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmina Wiggins-Fernandez). As he listens to her velvety voice a tear streams down his cheek, and we immediately begin to be drawn in by him. He secretly tapes Ms. Hawkins' opera performance and then steals her gown when he meets her after the opera. The diva has never allowed anyone to record her before because of her artistic philosophies. Two Taiwanese bootleggers see Jules' furtive taping.
Meanwhile, a parallel story begins when a prostitute threatens to name the police chief for his involvement in a vice ring, with a tape containing the evidence. She is killed, but before she dies she stashes the tape in Jules' courier bag on his moped. Thus, the intrigue begins, with about a dozen characters zigzagging this way and that, each with his own mutually exclusive goal. The spirited crescendo is a moped chase on the Metro. The twists and turns of the crime caper amount to a witty and playful cinematic experience.
I am not a big fan of high escapade films, and bristled at one of the lesser characters' – Gorodish's - misogynistic and racist attitudes to his younger girlfriend, Alba - the Vietnamese-French kleptomaniac. It is a thrill to see my favorite character actor, Dominique Pinon, with his rubber, idiosyncratic features, as one of the thugs. He is most recognizable as the obsessive paranoid boyfriend in AMELIE, and has worked with Jean-Pierre Jeunet several times, including in Jeunet's first (and my favorite short) film, short, THINGS I LIKE, THINGS I DON'T LIKE.
This is American Soprano Wilhelminia Wiggins Fernandez' first film role; she delivers a powerful performance. Initially reluctant to take the role, she changed her mind in the hopes of enticing more people to see opera. Frederic Andrei - last seen in Tonie Marshall's international hit, VENUS BEAUTY INSTITUTE – as Jules, is captivating.
The sweet love story between Jules and diva, Cynthia Hawkins, is the glue of the film. Overall, DIVA is a fun film, with the innovative camerawork and smart style making it worthy of the restoration.
© 2007 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 12/5/07
directorial debut of Jean-Jacques Beineix; with Dominique Pinon