Diva


1h 57m 1981

Brief Synopsis

Atmospheric thriller about a young postal delivery boy, his obsession with an opera diva, the bootleg tapes he makes of her performances, and the evil hoods who chase him down, thinking he has a tape that implicates them in a crime.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1981
Production Company
Greenwich Film Productions
Distribution Company
Rialto Pictures/United Artists Films; Electric Pictures/Contemporary Films Ltd; Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment; Lionsgate; Palace Pictures; Rialto Pictures; United Artists Films

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 57m

Synopsis

Atmospheric thriller about a young postal delivery boy, his obsession with an opera diva, the bootleg tapes he makes of her performances, and the evil hoods who chase him down, thinking he has a tape that implicates them in a crime.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1981
Production Company
Greenwich Film Productions
Distribution Company
Rialto Pictures/United Artists Films; Electric Pictures/Contemporary Films Ltd; Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment; Lionsgate; Palace Pictures; Rialto Pictures; United Artists Films

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 57m

Articles

Diva - DIVA - Jean-Jacques Beineix's Stylish 1982 Thriller on DVD


It's hard to believe that Diva, the ultra-stylish, unimaginably influential, pop-chic feature debut of director Jean-Jacques Beineix, was a theatrical flop when it was first unleashed on unsuspecting French audiences in 1982. French critics dismissed the film, a colorful crime fantasy about an opera-mad mail carrier who lands in the center of an international criminal conspiracy, as shallow and slick and audiences steered clear from its opening weekend. It was festival showings and, ironically, its American release that boosted its profile. Excited reviews extolled the cool attitude, vibrant color and hip style and helped turn the film into an art-house phenomenon as young European audiences slowly discovered the sleek lark of a thriller, transforming it into a cult film and, finally, a commercial and critical hit.

Frédéric Andréi stars as Jules, a young, moped-riding postman and music maven who is obsessed with opera diva Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), an artist who refuses to be recorded. She believes that the live connection between the her and the audience is an essential element of her art. The film opens with Jules arriving at her concert and then surreptitiously recording her, a pirate recording for a private audience that goes unnoticed by all but a pair of mysterious men also in the audience. Beineix builds the scene in complicated cross-cutting that transforms a concert into a web of surveillance: not all eyes are on Hawkins. The next day, while on his delivery rounds, another hot recording lands in his lap (or, more accurately, his moped saddlebags), this one a cassette with explosive evidence in the investigation of an international heroine and prostitution ring. Jules is the target of mob hitmen who want the evidence and ruthless recording executives who want the concert, but a chance meeting with a teenage Vietnamese shoplifter (Thuy An Luu) brings Jules to Gorodish (Richard Bohringer), a shadowy knight errant who (for reasons not explained in the film) becomes Jules' guardian angel. It's a deadly game of who's got the tape – and which tape do they have – in a narrative built on matched pairs and reflections: two good cops and two bad cops, two mob assassins and two music industry henchmen, two tapes, two conspiracies, and a criminal kingpin with a double life. "The whole film is a game of duality," says Beineix, but he's deft enough not to belabor the doublings, merely to use them as the foundation on which he builds his plot and tells his story.

The open, boyish face of actor Andréi evokes young Jean-Pierre Leaud and helps turn Jules into a modern twist on the sixties new wave hero, a free-wheeling innocent defined by unabashed enthusiasm and passion and a misguided romantic tarnished by his youthful arrogance. Not merely illegal, his pirate recording is a moral crime against Hawkins (she equates it with rape) with potentially devastating consequences. "Diva is a movie about technology, and technology versus artists," Beineix explains in a 2008 interview. "If I had to keep one phrase from the film, it's when the Diva says, 'It is up to business to adapt to art and not to art to adapt to business.' I know it's very naïve but I still believe in it."

Beineix had worked with Bohringer as an assistant director and sought him out for a small role, but it was his casting director who suggested him for the central role of Gorodish. He just about steals the film as the Zen hipster who lives in a massive cave of an artfully empty loft, painted black and filled out with blue accents, and his memorable portrayal gave his career a boost. Beineix was on the lookout for an established opera star to play his Diva when his casting director saw American soprano Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez in her Paris opera debut. The film remains her only screen appearance to date, but it gave her international recognition. Character actor Dominique Pinon (Delicatessen) made his feature debut as a punk killer with an earpiece and an awl, and his rubbery face and diminutive stature made him one of the most striking figures in the film.

Beineix cites comic books as a major inspiration for his graphic style and he worked with director of photography Philippe Rousellot and Hilton McConnico to fine-tune his ideas on cinematic color and space on their limited budget. Beineix exaggerates the imagery – stripping down the some sets to a striking austerity, building up others with artful clutter – and casts scenes in swathes of colored hues and chiaroscuro lighting schemes. The opening concert is set not in a grand opera hall but a dilapidated theater with crumbling walls and an open stage. "This was an opera crime film so we started with symbolic images of the opera, but in fact we're not at the opera," explains Beiniex. It's like a cross between an ancient amphitheater and a gutted relic of a concert hall, a kind of junk-chic. The climactic showdown takes place in the massive steel and glass skeleton of an empty industrial plant, an urban wasteland turned elegant dump. And it's not just the public spaces: Gorodish's strikingly austere home contrasts sharply with Jules' abandoned industrial loft, with walls filled with garish auto-themed art and the floors littered with the detritus of wrecked cars.

"You couldn't find that kind of aesthetic in 1981," proclaims actress Anny Romand. "He invented it." According to director of photography Philippe Rousellot, Beineix wanted "a totally monochromatic picture," and Rousellot (fairly young in the business himself) became increasingly worried as the film turned more and more blue. Even the sunlight glows through the windows of Gorodosh's loft in cerulean hues, thanks to a layer of blue cellophane, an inexpensive alternative to more traditional, and expensive, gels (set designer Hilton McConnico recalls that they were purchased from a candy factory).

Composer Vladimir Cosma creates an eclectic music score, from lyric arias to techno-rock to new wave pop, and he brought in Vietnamese musicians and Tibetan singers to add unusual and unexpected colors to the score. But it's all anchored by the beautiful aria from La Wally that opens and closes the film. The voice of Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez rings out clear and strong and, like the blue hues that infuse the imagery, casts an unusual audio backdrop to the crime thriller.

Beineix clashed with his producers, Irene and Serge Silberman, right from the beginning. "They didn't want to have a crime movie that started with 3 minutes and 50 seconds of opera," he remembers. "They said it was suicide." And after the disappointing opening weekend, he fought to keep the film in the theaters and let the audience build. The film found a home in a single Paris theater, where it ran for a year as the audience discovered the film, eventually turning it into a hit. It went on to win four Cesar Awards (the French equivalent to the Academy Award), including Best Cinematography and Best First Film.

Diva has been called the first blast of a new French New Wave, though its influence is in spirit and style rather than personal expression and political daring. Not exactly a maverick vision of personal filmmaking, it in many ways paved the way for the delirious romances of Leos Carax and the sophisticated adult dramas of Olivier Assayas as well as the genre style-bombs of Luc Besson. The thematic naiveté and juvenile sensibility are more apparent in retrospect and the neon palette and funky fashion skirts the edges of eighties nostalgia and camp, but the energy and spirit remains infectious. Beineix directs with a visual cleverness and a witty playfulness that tells the audience to hang back and have fun.

The film has been newly remastered for the Lionsgate DVD release, part of their "Meridian Collection," in a transfer approved by director Jean-Jacques Beineix. It's sharp and clear without losing the warm quality of the original film grain (it was a low budget production) and those marvelous colors glow from the screen. The soundtrack is remastered in its original Mono and is just as crisp. Beineix provides commentary (in French, with simultaneous spoken English translation) for seven key scenes, from the opening credits to the closing minutes, talking mostly about his themes and inspirations. New video interviews with Beineix, director of photography Philippe Rousellot, set designer Hilton McConnico, and actors Frederic Andrei, Richard Bohringer, Anny Romand and Dominique Pinon, (among others) are presented in the 80-minute collection Searching For Diva. Most are English, some in French with simultaneous spoken English translation.

For more information about Diva, visit Lionsgate. To order Diva, go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker
Diva - Diva - Jean-Jacques Beineix's Stylish 1982 Thriller On Dvd

Diva - DIVA - Jean-Jacques Beineix's Stylish 1982 Thriller on DVD

It's hard to believe that Diva, the ultra-stylish, unimaginably influential, pop-chic feature debut of director Jean-Jacques Beineix, was a theatrical flop when it was first unleashed on unsuspecting French audiences in 1982. French critics dismissed the film, a colorful crime fantasy about an opera-mad mail carrier who lands in the center of an international criminal conspiracy, as shallow and slick and audiences steered clear from its opening weekend. It was festival showings and, ironically, its American release that boosted its profile. Excited reviews extolled the cool attitude, vibrant color and hip style and helped turn the film into an art-house phenomenon as young European audiences slowly discovered the sleek lark of a thriller, transforming it into a cult film and, finally, a commercial and critical hit. Frédéric Andréi stars as Jules, a young, moped-riding postman and music maven who is obsessed with opera diva Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), an artist who refuses to be recorded. She believes that the live connection between the her and the audience is an essential element of her art. The film opens with Jules arriving at her concert and then surreptitiously recording her, a pirate recording for a private audience that goes unnoticed by all but a pair of mysterious men also in the audience. Beineix builds the scene in complicated cross-cutting that transforms a concert into a web of surveillance: not all eyes are on Hawkins. The next day, while on his delivery rounds, another hot recording lands in his lap (or, more accurately, his moped saddlebags), this one a cassette with explosive evidence in the investigation of an international heroine and prostitution ring. Jules is the target of mob hitmen who want the evidence and ruthless recording executives who want the concert, but a chance meeting with a teenage Vietnamese shoplifter (Thuy An Luu) brings Jules to Gorodish (Richard Bohringer), a shadowy knight errant who (for reasons not explained in the film) becomes Jules' guardian angel. It's a deadly game of who's got the tape – and which tape do they have – in a narrative built on matched pairs and reflections: two good cops and two bad cops, two mob assassins and two music industry henchmen, two tapes, two conspiracies, and a criminal kingpin with a double life. "The whole film is a game of duality," says Beineix, but he's deft enough not to belabor the doublings, merely to use them as the foundation on which he builds his plot and tells his story. The open, boyish face of actor Andréi evokes young Jean-Pierre Leaud and helps turn Jules into a modern twist on the sixties new wave hero, a free-wheeling innocent defined by unabashed enthusiasm and passion and a misguided romantic tarnished by his youthful arrogance. Not merely illegal, his pirate recording is a moral crime against Hawkins (she equates it with rape) with potentially devastating consequences. "Diva is a movie about technology, and technology versus artists," Beineix explains in a 2008 interview. "If I had to keep one phrase from the film, it's when the Diva says, 'It is up to business to adapt to art and not to art to adapt to business.' I know it's very naïve but I still believe in it." Beineix had worked with Bohringer as an assistant director and sought him out for a small role, but it was his casting director who suggested him for the central role of Gorodish. He just about steals the film as the Zen hipster who lives in a massive cave of an artfully empty loft, painted black and filled out with blue accents, and his memorable portrayal gave his career a boost. Beineix was on the lookout for an established opera star to play his Diva when his casting director saw American soprano Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez in her Paris opera debut. The film remains her only screen appearance to date, but it gave her international recognition. Character actor Dominique Pinon (Delicatessen) made his feature debut as a punk killer with an earpiece and an awl, and his rubbery face and diminutive stature made him one of the most striking figures in the film. Beineix cites comic books as a major inspiration for his graphic style and he worked with director of photography Philippe Rousellot and Hilton McConnico to fine-tune his ideas on cinematic color and space on their limited budget. Beineix exaggerates the imagery – stripping down the some sets to a striking austerity, building up others with artful clutter – and casts scenes in swathes of colored hues and chiaroscuro lighting schemes. The opening concert is set not in a grand opera hall but a dilapidated theater with crumbling walls and an open stage. "This was an opera crime film so we started with symbolic images of the opera, but in fact we're not at the opera," explains Beiniex. It's like a cross between an ancient amphitheater and a gutted relic of a concert hall, a kind of junk-chic. The climactic showdown takes place in the massive steel and glass skeleton of an empty industrial plant, an urban wasteland turned elegant dump. And it's not just the public spaces: Gorodish's strikingly austere home contrasts sharply with Jules' abandoned industrial loft, with walls filled with garish auto-themed art and the floors littered with the detritus of wrecked cars. "You couldn't find that kind of aesthetic in 1981," proclaims actress Anny Romand. "He invented it." According to director of photography Philippe Rousellot, Beineix wanted "a totally monochromatic picture," and Rousellot (fairly young in the business himself) became increasingly worried as the film turned more and more blue. Even the sunlight glows through the windows of Gorodosh's loft in cerulean hues, thanks to a layer of blue cellophane, an inexpensive alternative to more traditional, and expensive, gels (set designer Hilton McConnico recalls that they were purchased from a candy factory). Composer Vladimir Cosma creates an eclectic music score, from lyric arias to techno-rock to new wave pop, and he brought in Vietnamese musicians and Tibetan singers to add unusual and unexpected colors to the score. But it's all anchored by the beautiful aria from La Wally that opens and closes the film. The voice of Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez rings out clear and strong and, like the blue hues that infuse the imagery, casts an unusual audio backdrop to the crime thriller. Beineix clashed with his producers, Irene and Serge Silberman, right from the beginning. "They didn't want to have a crime movie that started with 3 minutes and 50 seconds of opera," he remembers. "They said it was suicide." And after the disappointing opening weekend, he fought to keep the film in the theaters and let the audience build. The film found a home in a single Paris theater, where it ran for a year as the audience discovered the film, eventually turning it into a hit. It went on to win four Cesar Awards (the French equivalent to the Academy Award), including Best Cinematography and Best First Film. Diva has been called the first blast of a new French New Wave, though its influence is in spirit and style rather than personal expression and political daring. Not exactly a maverick vision of personal filmmaking, it in many ways paved the way for the delirious romances of Leos Carax and the sophisticated adult dramas of Olivier Assayas as well as the genre style-bombs of Luc Besson. The thematic naiveté and juvenile sensibility are more apparent in retrospect and the neon palette and funky fashion skirts the edges of eighties nostalgia and camp, but the energy and spirit remains infectious. Beineix directs with a visual cleverness and a witty playfulness that tells the audience to hang back and have fun. The film has been newly remastered for the Lionsgate DVD release, part of their "Meridian Collection," in a transfer approved by director Jean-Jacques Beineix. It's sharp and clear without losing the warm quality of the original film grain (it was a low budget production) and those marvelous colors glow from the screen. The soundtrack is remastered in its original Mono and is just as crisp. Beineix provides commentary (in French, with simultaneous spoken English translation) for seven key scenes, from the opening credits to the closing minutes, talking mostly about his themes and inspirations. New video interviews with Beineix, director of photography Philippe Rousellot, set designer Hilton McConnico, and actors Frederic Andrei, Richard Bohringer, Anny Romand and Dominique Pinon, (among others) are presented in the 80-minute collection Searching For Diva. Most are English, some in French with simultaneous spoken English translation. For more information about Diva, visit Lionsgate. To order Diva, go to TCM Shopping. by Sean Axmaker

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1982

Released in United States May 15, 1981

Released in United States October 2009

Released in United States on Video June 23, 2008

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1982

Re-released in United States November 2, 2007

Re-released in United States November 30, 2007

Shown at Cannes Film Festival (market) May 15, 1981.

Shown at Pusan International Film Festival (World Cinema) October 8-16, 2009.

Directorial debut for Jean-Jacques Beineix.

Restored print released for "25th anniversary" in New York City on November 2, 2007.

Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1982

Released in United States May 15, 1981 (Shown at Cannes Film Festival (market) May 15, 1981.)

Released in United States on Video June 23, 2008

Released in United States October 2009 (Shown at Pusan International Film Festival (World Cinema) October 8-16, 2009.)

Re-released in United States November 2, 2007 (New York City)

Re-released in London August 30, 1991.

Re-released in United States November 30, 2007 (Los Angeles)