Diva (1981)

“Some get high on airplane glue… detergents… fancy gimmicks. My satori is this: Zen in the art of buttering bread!”

‘Diva’, directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix in 1981, is a French thriller and an early entry to the ‘cinéma du look’ movement. Jules, a postman played by Frédéric Andréi, is obsessed by the American opera singer Cynthia Hawkins, played by Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez. He secretly records one of her concerts and steals her dress. This leads to an unlikely romance between the pair, but their love story is interrupted by a crime caper involving a corrupt police officer and a tape recording implicating him, a gang of drug dealers, a pair of Taiwanese men desperate to obtain the rare recording of Hawkins, and Jules himself at the centre of everything. It’s a colourful film with a convoluted plot, but as a series of set pieces it is extraordinary. Beineix’s skill is to create a visually arresting movie that also emphasises the distinctively eccentric characters throughout. The highlight of the movie is undoubtedly a subway chase with Jules on a moped rattling down stairs and escalators and onto trains. It made me realise just how evocative underground railways are for dramatic chases, from Luc Besson’s ‘cinéma du look’ classic ‘Subway’ to ‘An American Werewolf in London’ and including (from the films I’ve seen recently) Wim Wenders’ ‘The American Friend’. There is something about the enclosed tunnels and the possibility of escape that the trains offer that makes chase sequences so exciting. Beyond this, ‘Diva’ is full of smaller character moments, and packed with music. The operatic soundtrack at first appears at odds with the kinetic, pop stylings of the film, but in the end it works perfectly.

Would I recommend it? Yes, it’s bright, fast paced and visually arresting. Watch with ‘Subway’ for a  ‘cinéma du look’ double bill.

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