Thursday, April 28, 2022

Beineix’s Diva

Opera singer Cynthia Hawkins is the opposite of Glenn Gould. She refuses to record, because she believes music requires an immediate relationship with a live audience. Jules is her biggest fan, but he is also a compulsive taper, even more so than the average Deadhead. He thinks he is being chased around Paris for a tape of her latest concert, but it is really a case of wrong-place-at-the-wrong time. The resulting noir misadventures became one of the biggest breakout hits for French cinema in America during the 1980s. It still looks great and holds up mightily when Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva re-releases in 35mm tomorrow at Film Forum.

Jules is a slightly obsessive fan who taped Hawkins’ latest concert and also impulsively stole her shawl. Unbeknownst to him, two dodgy Taiwanese record label sharks saw him do it—the taping that is. Of course, they would very much like to release that tape.

The next day, a prostitute-informer hopes to turn over an incriminating cassette to the police, but an ice pick in her back forces her to ditch the tape in Jules’ mailbag. Suddenly, he finds himself hunted by two colorful thugs, “The Caribbean” and “The Priest” out to protect their boss, Saporta, the chief of the homicide squad, who also happens to be the kingpin of a human trafficking ring. Jules is way out of his league, but he finds help from two recent acquaintances, Alba, a young kleptomaniac French-Vietnamese model, and her ambiguous lover, Serge Gorodish, a reclusive pianist.

is super-slick and uber-stylish. You can really see where 1980s slicksters like Adrian Lyne and Tony Scott could have stolen a lot from Beineix’s film. The timing is right for revisiting/rediscovering Diva, given the prominent role Beinneix’s Betty Blue plays in the recent cheesy Netflix weeper, The In Between. Together, the two films firmly established Beineix as an auteur of flashy excess, but Diva is considerably more fun.

Frankly, it is bizarre that neither Thuy An Luu or American opera diva Wilhelmenia Fernandez became big-screen stars after
Diva, because there are most deeply seductive and intriguing as Alba and Hawkins, respectively. Ironically, the thesp who probably got the most mileage out of the film was Dominique Pinon, who is definitely cool and creepy as the sinister Priest. As poor Jules, Frederic Andrei is probably the only cast-member who isn’t colorful, but we feel for the sad sack. Richard Bohringer’s Gorodish is also somewhat restrained, but his sly ethical ambiguity definitely keeps viewers guessing, especially if they do not Beineix and Jean Van Hamme adapted their screenplay from one of Delacorte’s “Alba/Gorodish” novels.

They might also be due for an American reissue, except Alba is conspicuously underage in the novels (but not the film), which could offend the neo-Puritanical cancellers. For what its worth, Daniel Odier (who wrote under the Delacorte pseudonym) went on to become a teacher of tantra wisdom. None of that need influence your feelings towards
Diva. Both visually and musically, it is lushly stunning, thanks to cinematographer’s Philippe Rousselot’s rich, glowing colors and Fernandez’s masterful performance of arias from Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally.

In fact,
Diva is one of the few film noirs that truly works because of its use of color. Kids of the 1980s might remember the praises critics heaped on it sounding excessive, but they were actually warranted. It is still totally hip, forty years after its initial U.S. release. Very highly recommended, Diva opens tomorrow (4/29) in New York, at Film Forum.