There are rather interesting developments that are occurring down here on the farm, the main development being that it now looks as if i will be going “Back to school.” Yup, as i am in a dead-end job and have no debts, now is as good a time as any to go to University and study something that would actually interest me for once. Nothing boring and technical like engineering or computers. No, i will be going straight for the arts & humanities.
And one degree that’s available at the University Of Iceland is…. Film Studies! Yes, i could spend a couple of year watching, studying and analysing the wonderful world of celluloid. It’s very intriguing. My friend Birkir is actually doing that course right now (His thesis is the use of remote villages/small towns in film), although my other friend Sindri notes that total arseholes seem to take film studies courses. It’s certainly something to consider.
But this means that I now need to pick up the slack and get round to watching more films. So to help me along, for tonight’s edition of The Sunday Cult Film Corner, we shine a light on a Film that is both quintessentially French and a product of the 1980’s. Ladies and gentlemen, i give you DIVA.
Diva tells the tales of a young postman called Jules (Frédéric Andréi) who is besotted with Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Fernandez), a beautiful and celebrated opera singer who has never consented to have her performances recorded. He attends her performance, secretly and illegally records it, and steals a gown from her dressing room. After a change encounter with a prostitute, she slips another tape, containing the prostitutes evidence that implicates a high-ranking police in a sting of illegal rackets, into his bag before she is killed by the corrupt policeman’s enforcers.
On the run from the police and Taiwanese gangsters after the tape of Hawkin’s performance, he is given refuge by a mysterious bohemian Serge, and his muse Alba, an experienced pickpocket. Together they seek to outwit the gangster and corrupt police, while Jules becomes closer to Cynthia.
DIVA is a film that is drenched in good looks, sharp cinematography and bright colours. Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix, It became one of the signature films of the 1980s French film movement titled Cinéma Du Look. Other directors associated with this field include Leos Carax (Director of Mauvais Sang, and is currently wowing/confounding audiences with Holy Motors) and Luc Besson (Of Subway, Leon and The 5th element fame). Indeed Beineix would later in the 1980s go on to direct the quintessential film of the Cinéma Du Look movement, Betty Blue. With it’s tale of doomed love between two sexy young lovers, it was the poster du jour for all artistic students bedroom walls in the 80s/90s.
Like all these films, DIVA shares many of the themes found in Cinéma du look – doomed love affairs, young people with peer groups rather than families, a cynical view of the police and the use of the Paris Métro to symbolise an alternative, underground society. the films itself is a mix of chase thriller and romance story. There’s not much to the actual plot/narrative, but you don’t really mind that much as the films motors through on pure style and sound alone. On several moments such as the first scene at Serge’s apartment, the opera performances, or when Jules and Cynthia are walking through Paris at dawn, DIVA feels more like a TV advert than an actual movie. DIVA mirrors the changes that were occurring in advertising during that time. With the onset of western yuppie culture and deregulation of many industries, upwardly mobile, aspirational people were seeking to make their fortunes and live the good life. Whether it was for drinks companies, airlines, cars, or cassette tapes, these adverts were sleek, shiny propositions, all bright colours and conspicuous consumption with allusions of artistic quality. Marketers even copied famous films such as “Jean De Florette” to sell continental lager.
DIVA was definitely a hit with foreign film audiences and critics at the time, and since then it has risen in stock to become one of the premier cult films from the 1980s. It’s definitely fun to watch and the sounds and music are brilliant. Also Keep an eye out for Dominique Pinon as the small police assassin who is dangerous with knives. He would go on to have his own colorful career in films such as Delicatessen, The City Of Lost Children, and Alien: Resurrection.