[Last Film I Watch] Diva (1981)

Diva poster

Title: Diva
Year: 1981
Country: France
Language: French, English, Italian
Genre: Thriller
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Jean-Jacques Beineix
Jean Van Hamme
adapted from Daniel Odier’s novel
Music: Vladimir Cosma
Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot
Frédéric Andréi
Wilhelmenia Fernandez
Richard Bohringer
Thuy An Luu
Dominique Pinon
Gérard Darmon
Jacques Fabbri
Anny Romand
Chantal Deruaz
Roland Bertin
Jean-Jacques Moreau
Patrick Floersheim
Raymond Aquilon
Rating: 6.2/10

Diva 1981

If one considers this as a white-knuckle thriller contingent on its narrative coherence, DIVA, Beineix’s groundbreaking feature debut, is not a qualified specimen, but by retrospect, it is a pioneer piece of work which commences a specific style in French cinema from 1980s, CINÉMA DU LOOK, where a lurid visual approach presides over the essential narrative, exemplified by Luc Besson, Leos Carax, and of course Beineix himself.

To each his own, but there is a difference between foundering on fabricating a plausible storyline and discarding the conventional narrative arc in preference to its stylish extravaganza. Unfortunately I consider DIVA is a case of former, not just because the source material, Delacorta’s novel, is firmly grounded in its entangled involvements of two tapes, an intrepid postman Jules (Andréi) who is a fervid opera fan of singer Cynthia Hawkins (Fernandez), a drug cartel and prostitution ring in Paris, the inept police department, a Taiwanese gang who deals with pirate tapes and a mysterious man Serge Gorodish (Bohringer) with his young Vietnamese lover Alba (Luu), who phlegmatically keeps the upper hand of the dangerous game. More critically, it is a film deceptively imposes itself as an intriguing police procedural and cat-and-mouse chaser, only during the creative process, as if Beineix had lost the competence to juxtapose these paralleled happenings and commotions with a probable consistence, so he would opt out of the imbroglio and execute a visually-impressive strategy instead to dispatch the task, in order to shift the focus from viewers. The sentimental but fickle affinity between Jules and Cynthia is virtually has no bearing in the main plot at all, yet, it is the most enthralling part, as the title infers, we are more tempted to peek the high-strung temperament of a real diva than a shoddily-concocted heroic actioner to disintegrate a criminal cartel established by an evil police officer.

The real-life American soprano Ferandez’s rendition of Alfredo Catalani’s LA WALLY (the only masterpiece he made during his shortened lifespan) is divine and instantly keeps audience hooked, but as a drama actress, her bent is pretty limited, the rest of the dramatis personae is no better, save the enigmatic Bohringer, Serge is a badly written character in the story, ludicrously becomes an omnipresent last-minute saviour and a crafty criminal himself, but what is his backstory? Living in a huge apartment with an eye-opening parade of post-pop art, one might want to watch an entire movie solely based on his exotic way of life with Alba.

Equipped with a neon-lit pizzazz, its fixation on opera and female nudity, all I can say is that DIVA deserves to be a niche in the time capsule for epitomising the zeitgeist of its time, an era which most of us have no mood to revisit, in spite of being obtrusively garish and full of far-fetched whims in its vein.

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