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Diva
France 1981
Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix
Running time 117 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars


Jean-Jacques Beineix’s directorial debut was one of the seminal works of the so-called “cinéma du look” a style identified by French critic Raphaël Bassan that referred to the films of Beineix and fellow young guns Luc Besson and Leos Carax.  Essentially a cinema of appearances it was defined by a preference for slick visuals over narrative content and featured young, alienated characters who were apparently symbols for the marginalised youth of François Mitterrand's France of the time.

Diva well exemplifies the category. At best it’s all surface and no substance, at worst it’s ludicrously pretentious.  The story concerns a young Parisian postman (Fredric Andrei) and opera buff who secretly tape-records a live performance by an American soprano (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez). This tape becomes the object of desire for a couple of Asiatic would-be bootleggers (who wear sunglasses to the opera). Meanwhile in a parallel story, a prostitute slips a tape into the same postie’s mailbag which reveals the nefarious doings of a Paris police chief and he sends his stooges to retrieve it. All this drones on for two hours with the postie eluding his various incompetent pursuers (Beineix takes the opportunity to stage a motorbike chase in the Paris Métro) who of course are able to dispatch everyone with ease but him.

Whilst the plot is relatively perfunctory (why for instance don’t the Asians simply make their own recording) and its development banally predictable, the supposed charm of the film is its hip style. Admittedly this does give us some meretricious imagery thanks to Philipe Rousselot's cinematography but it also means enduring a good deal of 80s posturing. This comes largely in the form of Richard Bohringer’s super-cool, independently wealthy father figure who when his isn’t sitting on the floor cross-legged in his loft doing a giant jigsaw puzzle and chain-smoking Gitanes kits himself up in snorkel and goggles and prepares caviar-filled baguettes for his roller-blading Vietnamese girlfriend whose main interest is admiring herself in the mirror and expressing her existential indifference to the world at large. As they say, gimme a break!

Despite its reputation and the widespread critical praise that surrounds it about the only lasting thing the film gives us is the feature film debut of Dominique Pinon as a knife-throwing baddie.

 

 

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