Saturday, 21 August 2010

Diva: movie review


More than 25 years ago I watched the cult movie Diva, a French language film made in 1981. With the passage of time, I’d forgotten the details of the story-line, but I did at least recall that I’d rather enjoyed it, so I decided to give it another go.

I’m glad I did. It’s a gorgeously made film, and it has a complicated plot, with perhaps too many turns for plausibility. This isn’t, first and foremost, a realistic film, but rather a movie that is stylish and studded with memorable scenes and setting. It marked the debut of director, Jean-Jacques Beineix, and is an impressive piece of work.

The set-up is that Jules (Frederic Andrei) is a postman, who travels around Paris on his moped, while nourishing an obsessive devotion for black American opera singer Cynthia Hawkins. Although he’s an appealing character in many ways, his obsession makes him seem like a stalker at times. He makes a bootleg tape of one of Cynthia’s performances (she refuses ever to make a recording of her concerts), steals Cynthia’s gown, and pays a prostitute to wear it for him. It’s a tribute to the director and the actor that, despite all this, we want him to survive when he gets into trouble.

And the trouble he gets into is serious. A woman who is being pursued by gangsters hides a cassette tape (which contains incriminating information about a criminal mastermind) in the postman’s moped. Confusion ensues between this tape and the bootleg of the diva’s singing. Jules finds himself pursued not only by the criminal mastermind and his thuggish accomplices but also by Taiwanese crooks who want to profit from recordings of Cynthia’s performances. How can Jules, who is both reckless and naive, possibly save his skin?

The film is based on a book by Delacorta, whose work I haven’t read. But seeing this film made me wonder if it was time to track down his books and give them a try.

11 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for this review. I confess, I haven't seen Diva, but it sounds like a well-done movie. Hmm... I think a search for the DVD of it is in order...

Clarissa Draper said...

I have often read books because I've loved the movies so much. Often it's better to read the book first and often it not.

CD

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I adore French cinema, and haven't yet heard of this one -- I'd love to read the book and see this, what a great write up and recommendation!

Anonymous said...

I saw this film when it first came out,and have a copy of it on DVD. Every time I watch it I notice something new - some scenes are magical and unforgettable. And as for the singing, it sends tingles down your spine. From the first scene at the railway station I was hooked.
Sue

seana said...

I probably saw it around the same time you did, Martin, and I remember liking it a lot myself. I came across one of the books in the library not long after, and it seemed both similar and different. I'd be curious what you think of them if you read any now.

Janey Trevelyan said...

I share your enthusiasm, Martin, having recently bought the DVD - it's as good as I remembered it from its cinema release. 'Stylish' was the word bandied about then, which sometimes, when you see the film again years later, turns out to have meant it was no more than 'of its time' - catching the mood and look of the moment. Diva is certainly good to look at, but there's much more to it, as you point out.
There are plenty of copies of Delacorta's books around on the secondhand market.

Richmonde said...

That aria from Catalani's La Wally (yes, really) was his greatest hit. It's a great film. I wonder if the loft apartment and the Vietnamese girlfriend are lifted wholesale from the novel? The loft-dweller is like those French pre-Sherlock Holmes detectives. In fact the whole thing is rather like a 30s thriller. Must watch again.

Yvette said...

What fun to run across your review of one of my favorite films of all time, Martin. I've forgotten how many times I've seen this and, yes, everytime it's like the first time. I actually feel sorry for people who haven't seen this film. Haven't read the book, though. Didn't even know there was one.

Martin Edwards said...

I'm glad to see that this movie evoked such a positive reaction from so many commenters. I agreee it's worth watching more than once.

Kesinis said...

I 've seen many times this magnificent movie and I was very impressed , as a photographer , from the camera takes, and the superb photography of the scenes !!!
It's so so colorful and I almost tend to see the movie as a great slide show, with a script to connect the pictures !!!
I cannot be bored , as many times as I see this film...

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Kesinis.