Grade: A / 80%
Synopsis: Jean-Jacques Beineix is too talented to allow any slip-ups to happen, and even if there is one, its done with great style and panache.
Diva begins and ends with traditional romantic sequences having a lyrical quality reminiscent of classical Shakespearean love story. In the beginning, you have Jules, a young postman, entering a towering hall to take his seat in the third row from front and watch with bated breath as a magnetic black opera singer named Cynthia Hawkins slowly takes the stage and belts out an astonishing rendition of ‘La Wally, Act One’; after the show ends, our hero, enchanted by Cynthia’s breathtaking beauty and voice, hands her a bouquet and gets her autograph. She’s very warm and cordial, unlike the perception we hold for ‘divas’ usually, and asks Jules whether he liked her performance, and also about his moped; he corrects her, saying its not a moped but a mobylette, a miniature moped. ‘A mobylette!’ she utters, then smiles; before he’s able to say anything else, he’s pushed aside by ‘one of those socialite friends’ (b****!) of hers. The film ends with (spoiler alert) the two characters slow-dancing to Cynthia’s music, the same one sung by her in the beginning.
In between, however, Diva is filled with a prostitution racket, pistol-wielding hit-men, Taiwanese gangsters and a dose of action-thriller sequences, all seamlessly knitted together, forming its first loop right from the beginning, and making intricate patterns as the film progresses. All through the performance, while our mesmerized hero is transfixed by Cynthia, he is simultaneously recording her performance secretly on his professional-quality Nagra recorder; the singer, who’s 32, hasn’t made a single recording of her performances, reasoning that ‘Commerce should follow art. Art should NOT be made to follow commerce’. Girl’s absolutely right here! This illegal tape recorded by our naivete hero, whose intention was to take the copy to his garage-cum-home and play it day and night, is wanted by two Taiwanese gangsters who intend to make bootleg copies of the tape. Another problem arises when an ex-prostitute named Nadia Kalonsky puts a tape containing a shocking testimony exposing a high-ranking policeman in the carrier of Jules’ mobylette before getting stabbed to death by two fearsome hit-men.
Our Jules temporarily hands the tape to one Alba, an alluring young girl who stays with a 30-plus man who goes by the name Gorodish; the relationship between the pair isn’t known and the only clues offered include a shot of the guy sitting in an open bathtub in one scene and solving a maze in another, which isn’t enough to take a call on the two. The book by Daniel Odier, on which this film is based, includes these two characters on recurring basis so if anyone’s interested in getting a copy, he/she can find it here. Both the tapes constantly change hands through the course of Diva but it isn’t hard to keep a track so long as you don’t take that damn phone and keep texting like Madonna did during the screening of 12 Years as a Slave. And the most unexpected things happen at the right time to clear up the mess; Jules is one lucky sonofabitch!
Basically its the assemblage of unlikely elements in Diva could’ve made it a sub-standard Bollywood film in the wrong hands. I’m not kidding here; many Bollywood films are known for placing together an assortment of stock characters, situations, genres and music without achieving a right balance that is perfectly palatable in totality to the taste-buds. Jean-Jacques Beineix is too talented to allow any slip-ups to happen, and even if there is one, its done with great style and panache. The film, as Wikipedia describes, follows a colourful, melodic style termed ‘cinema du look’, which gives a preference to style over substance and focuses on young, alienated characters said to represent youth of Francois Mitterand’s (longest serving President of France who served as leader of Sociality party between the years 1981 and 1995) France. Just watch how his camera sways in mid-shots and extremely long-shots as Hawkins performs her concert, as if the camera’s under the spell of her golden notes. Then there’s the talked-about chase scene, hailed by Mr. Ebert as deserving enough to be ranked along-with the all-time classics, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘The French Connection’, and ‘Bullitt’. Here, Jules rides his mobylette down the subway stairs, then inside a train and then up the escalator, while trying to evade the two hit-men.
The colour scheme used in the film is noticeable,though not overpowering. There’s a dreamy blue light on Jules as he listens to Cynthia for the first time. Cynthia’s white gown looks extremely elegant draped on her dark and beautiful skin. Her home is decked up in bright yellow shades. There is an extended shot of a light-house for no symbolic purpose except to highlight the compositional balance the shot achieves. The sound of tinkling piano as Jules and Cynthia get closer to each other easily succeeds in creating a mood of amour.
How do you feel at the end? ‘You like the film, you really like the film!’
- Diva // Diva (dreamtobefrench.wordpress.com)
- Betty Blue Deluxe Edition/DVD & Blu-Ray -25 November 2013 (close-upfilm.com)