Saturday, September 12, 2009


Diva poster (1981)
Directed by
  Jean-Jacques Beineix
Written by Jean-Jacques Beineix and Jean Van Hamme
Based on the novel by Delacorta

Frédéric Andréi, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Richard Bohringer
IMDB Entry
Official Website

Diva has it all -- comedy, romance, thrills, great chase scenes, wonderful characters and much more. If it had been filmed in Hollywood, it would have been remembered for the classic it is.  But it was filmed in France, in French, and is known to a far-too-small number of people.

It was the feature debut of director/writer Jean-Jacques Beineix. Beineix had come up through the ranks:  he was an assistant director for ten years* before getting his chance to direct -- and hitting a home run.

The story is simple and direct.  Jules (Frédéric Andréi) is a Parisian messenger, who travels the city on his scooter delivering packages.  He's also an opera fan, especially of the American opera singer Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez). Well, more than a fan -- he falls in love with his voice and does the one thing the singer has forbidden:  recorded her in concert.

But he is spotted by two Hong Kong tape pirates, who think they can make a mint with a live recording.  He also draws the attention of a prostitution ring -- with members in high places -- when the tape is mistaken and switched for one that will blow their crimes wide open.

And the chase begins.  The movie contains some of the best chase scenes in film, especially when Jules rides his scooter through the escalators of the Paris Metro.

Andréi is charming as Jules, but also memorable is Fernandez in a difficult part.**

The movie got good reviews when it opened, but, of course, did so-so business in the US (subtitled films usually do).  It was a big hit in France and Europe, though.  Beineix has been working in the French film industry since then, but without any big splashes that crossed the ocean.  Andréi has had some roles in French films and has moved into directing, while Fernandez returned to opera, where she's had a solid career on stage.

The film was revived in 2007 to find new audiences, but I fear those were probably too small for people to see just how wonderful this film was.


*Including time working on The Day the Clown Cried, Jerry Lewis's epic unreleased disaster.

**Including casting.  The story required a world-class opera singer who was fluent in both English and French.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Back when the Nickelodeon Cinema in Kenmore Square was going, the movie had a memorable 6+ month run, along with DINER and MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. But that's Boston in the pre-VCR era....