Diva (1981) movie poster

(1981) dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix
viewed: 06/05/08

Rather than the French New Wave, you might call this film, “New Wave French”.

Diva was a popular cult film from the days of its release, a film I hadn’t seen since the 1980’s.  Based on a novel from a series of crime fiction by the author Delacorta (Daniel Odier), this film is one of mystery and intrigue that befalls a young postal worker who gets mixed up in bootleg recording and a dangerous cassette tape that can bring down an administration.

What really earns the film its strength is the style and panache of the cinematography and general art direction and aesthetics.  The film, released in 1981, doesn’t reek of bad hair-do’s and a hip New Wave set of tunes.  Rather, it creates a visual world with a head for hipness a stride ahead of the pop bunch, but offers simple imagery that feels more ahead of the curve and a tone that strides along.

There is an oddness:  the man who wears a diving mask and snorkel while smoking and cooking dinner, the hipster Vietnamese girl roller-skating in the massive loft, the cylcing helmet placed over the head of a semi-classical nude statue.  There are those anachronisms too: the oft-shot, slowly tilting “water wave” tube (the lava lamp of its day) and the prostitute’s camera-like light fixture that she uses for “ambiance”.  I guess that is what it’s all about here: ambiance.  But it is still a functionally stylish ambiance.

The most iconic image for me is Dominique Pinon, he of the funny face of so many films (The City of Lost Children (1995) & Amélie (2001)), as the small nihilist skinhead with the dark narrow sunglasses and the earpiece…wielding the ice picks, no less.  Something simply about his appearance feels so much of its time and really, not over-the-top.

The film has its charms, for certain.  But for a thriller, it’s none too thrilling.  At least this time around for me.  I think it’s a prime example of 1980’s filmmaking, aesthetics, style, and cleverness.  And of course, it’s foreign.  French to be exact.  In the 1980’s that made things cool just being foreign or French…or both.

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