A young postal messenger with an obsession for opera steals his idol’s dress after a performance. An eccentric millionaire spends his days doing puzzles on the floor of his infinite loft while his 14year old kleptomaniac muse uses a portfolio full of naked self-portraits as a ruse to steal records. Taiwanese music pirates chase a clandestine recording through Paris. Corrupt cops try to prevent their crimes from being exposed. A beautiful and reclusive opera diva refuses to let anyone record her performances. This is the cast of characters that come together in DIVA, the 1981 film directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix, a longtime favorite of mine whose soundtrack filled my long bus rides to school as a teenager.
Coming after the French Nouvelle Vague, Beineix, a longtime director’s assistant began making his own fims, launching the small but poignant movement of Cinema du Look. Defined by an emphasis on style and visuals to communicate the narrative, some might brand Cinema du Look as “style over substance”, I would define it as “style AS substance”.
In Diva, Beineix indulges in every part of filmmaking, from the glam-grungy aesthetic and unabashed romanticism, to the extravagant sets and characters. All the while, never forgetting the action, (the famous motorbike chase in the Paris Metro can rival any action film) or the soundtrack, a compilation by Vladimir Cosma of Satie-style piano, classical opera and some haunting experimental pop.
For a film policier (cop movie) this one is definitely on the surreal and elegant side.