Sunday, November 07, 2010

Underrated Movie #96: Diva

Title: Diva
Year: 1981
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Writers: Beieix and Jean Van Hamme, based on the novel by Daniel Odier, writing as “Delacorta”
Stars: Frederic Andrei, Wilhelmenia Fernandez, Richard Bohringer, Thuy An Luu, Jacques Fabbri, Dominique Pinon

The Story: A romantic young Paris postman secretly bootlegs a performance by an African-American opera diva on the same day that a dying woman hides another tape in his bag, implicating the chief of police in a prostitution ring. Different gangs come after him looking for the two tapes, but he is oblivious, blithely pursuing romances with both the singer and a punky young Vietnamese shoplifter. Soon he finds himself caught up in several harrowing chases across Paris.

How it Came to be Underrated: This was a cult favorite in the ‘80s but it’s largely forgotten today.

Why It’s Great:

  1. When one talks of movies from the ‘80s, the phrase “style over substance” often comes up, and this movie could certainly be accused of leading that revolution—it’s gorgeously shot but it has little of the social critique of the New Wave. But this movie gives style a good name. This is the look that American schlockmeisters like Simpson and Bruckheimer wanted to replicate, but their soulless big screen car-commercials lacked the lyricism that makes this come alive. For one brief moment, this movie actually made it cool to be cool.
  2. It’s amazing just how ‘80s the movie is—neon, a wave machine, pink plastic raincoats—it’s like stepping inside a Nagel print. In America 1981 still looked like the ‘70s but France had already left the wide ties far behind.
  3. While this movie moved away from moral considerations, it was nevertheless a refreshing leap forward in terms of showing the multicultural world that France was becoming. Godard’s characters may have carried around Mao’s little red book, but it rarely occurred to them to actually get to know any persons of color.
  4. As you can tell from the plot synopsis, the story is basically absurd. It’s all played perfectly straight, but it operates on another level as a postmodern goof on the conventions of the thriller genre. This movie looks forward to Tarantino as much as it looks back to Hitchcock.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Dominique Pinon, who plays a quirky killer here, would finally get a chance to be a star in Delicatessen, which was even more off-kilter and stylish.

How Available Is It?: The DVD looks nice and it has an interview with Beineix.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: No, No It Won’t.


MichaelB said...

Based on the Delacorta book. All his stuff worth checking out. Diva, Nana, Luna, Lola, Vida, and Alba

Steve Bird said...

Holy crap, where did you find that old reel-to-reel ad??? That's tremendous!

Mark said...

Diva, yes, a favorite, though I never cared for Miss Wiggins as an actress. I never thought of it as underrated, however. I recall it making many best-10 lists the year it was released.

Matt Bird said...

Good point, Michael, I added in the full credit.

And good point, Steve, that I failed to credit my source, which was, unsurprisingly, Boing Boing.

And keep in mind, Mark, that I include "not watched enough today" in my definition of "underrated", which conveniently includes pretty much anything I want to write about.

gillian said...

Well I'll be disagreeing with MichaelB.

This film is the example I use when people say the book is better than the movie.

Anonymous said...

this film has been in my top 3 of all time since i first saw it in theaters in college, first run. to me, everything about it is timeless New Wave.