Though Diva features an opera singer, Taiwanese bootleggers, prostitution, procedural crime solving, a first rate chase sequence, and hitmen that feel as though we might find them in The Matrix, what’s amazing about it is that they all fit perfectly into the same film. The film maintains its artistic vision, even when it seems to happen at the expense of the plot. Writer/Director Jean-Jacques Beineix provides us with a memorable experience few of us would have even thought to imagine.
- Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
- Writer: Jean-Jacques Beineix, Jean Van Hamme
- Cast: Federic Andrei, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Richard Bohringer
Jules (Andrei) is a postman who falls in love Cynthia Hawkins (Fernandez), a famous opera singer whose voice has never been recorded. At one of her concerts, Jules records a bootleg copy that soon becomes the focus of a dangerous pursuit of said recording by Taiwanese bootleggers. Meanwhile, a prostitution ring is also being uncovered, and an completely different and incriminating recording falls into Jules’ mailbag, complicating matters further.
Diva belongs on a list of films that showcase a wide variety of production elements. Everything from the production design to the sound and lighting is done with artistic mastery. On one hand, this is very much an arthouse film, with stylized compositions, mysterious relationships, a wide palette of color temperatures, and unconventional relationships between characters with very particular personalities. On the other hand, for much of the second act, Diva turns into a thriller that feels unexpectedly contemporary. Between Beineix’s sense of urgency and Philippe Rousselot’s photography, Diva is a parade of stylized motion. The chase sequence that takes place on Parisian streets and within a subway must be included as one of the best chase scenes of all time. The camera movement conveys great urgency, blending handheld footage with smooth tracking shots and interesting angles.
For a few decades, the French New Wave set the tone for French cinema as a body of work largely interested in realism, while this film acts as a bridge between Jean-Luc Godard and Luc Besson. Given the history of French cinema heading into the 1980′s, there is something very refreshing about watching a French film featuring prominent Asian and African American characters. The fact that a white character is in love with a black character is not a storyline that was common thens. Along with its timeless artistic quality, Diva holds up in a major way. Adding to its appeal as a film that feels relevant today is the fact that a significant amount of the plot deals with the issue of piracy, although it explores its implications in a way that seems unlikely, definitely unthinkable in today’s world of ubiquitous recording devices. In a world filled with violence, prostitution and hustle, Diva not only captures beautiful moments of connection, it elevates them into something magical.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
As Ebert comments in his review, Diva is an exhilarating film, and definitely one that feels as though it were made for no other purpose than to “surprise and fascinate”. There is a sensual flow to the imagery and pacing of this film, and we accept this film almost purely because of this quality. As Ebert reminds us, we go to different films for different reasons, and with a visceral experience like Diva, we don’t harp on the implausibility of the subject matter. Nor should we knock it for even it seems designed to justify certain stylistic elements. More than just providing a compelling story with unpredictable turns, Beineix provides an experience that manages to sweep you off your feet.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GREAT
Do you like Diva? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: La Ceremonie
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva this week, he now has 342 under his belt and less than 30 films left to go.