I don’t remember that much about Diva growing up; it was a film that I heard about as a kid, and a lot of people liked it, but that was the first time I can honestly say I was exposed to the arthouse film, and that it was something that I wanted to find out more about. Through the years, I’ve seen many a foreign or independent film, however the one that started all of it off for me I hadn’t seen, until now.
Diva was adapted from the Daniel Odier novel by Jean-Jacques Beineix, who previously directed a documentary version of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly long before Julian Schnabel put together a dramatic version of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s life. The story of Diva is a little complicated, but I’ll give it a go; a young messenger attends the concert of an opera singer, and creates a recording of the performance, which is a rarity for the singer, who normally frowns on recording her work. A line is said in the film along the lines of “art shapes itself around business, when business should actually shape itself around art.” A woman is murdered and drops a separate recording that is criminally linked to the police, and the tape winds up with the messenger. When the messenger, named Jules, is spotted recording the singer’s concert, they threaten him and demand to obtain the tape, so that it can be sold to the highest bidder. Unbeknownst to Jules, the participants of the other tape include a crooked police chief, who wants to try and get the other tape by any means necessary.
The story, while interwoven and complicated, doesn’t really hold up over the film’s two hours, but it still keeps you involved, that and Beineix’s incredible visuals that, while sometimes a little on the surreal side, are absolutely striking and well worth watching. Many directors since have lifted bits and pieces of Diva visually and it’s certainly engrossing.
What else is enjoyable about the film is that palatable hunger and leanness of the cast and the performances combined with those visuals. Beineix’s cast and performances all reek of a French underground that not many people had seen before and don’t see all that often now; the grunge combined with a neo-futuristic sense gives Paris a twist on imagery that I’d never seen before, and it inspires me to look more into the films of a similar stylistic choice.
A two-channel French monaural mix, which was remastered for this release as part of Lionsgate’s Meridian Collection. There’s not a lot of dynamic range on the soundtrack and the speaker panning and low end is pretty non-existent, but this is an analog track in a digital world, metaphorically speaking, and it sounds capable.
1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen for you to enjoy. The film grain is present throughout most, if not all of the film, and considering the production values and age of the feature, Diva looks pretty good, and it’s safe to say it’s not going to look any better anytime soon.
Beineix discusses the film in a scene-specific commentary that lasts a little over 40 minutes. In French with his translator, he discusses his original idea for much of the material and explains the film’s themes and storylines, along with the character motivations and repercussions therein. He talks about the film now and recalls some things about the production at the time. There’s not a lot of production-related information, focusing more on the artistic angles, so that change of pace is very interesting to listen to. The only other bonus is a series of extended interviews with the cast and crew, more than a quarter century after the fact. The interviews last more than 80 minutes and include many of the film’s stars, some of the producers, and costumer designer. The score and intent of the music in the film is shown off, along with various sound elements that were employed. The crew recalls the guidance that Beineix gave them at the time and their thoughts on him now, and the cast offers much of the same. One of the actors called Beineix a “sweet schizophrenic”. Everyone discusses the impact the film has had on their careers, and it’s a warm and intriguing look at the picture.
Diva remains an interesting achievement in visual style and sound and is a slightly effective statement on the decline of artistic integrity, sacrificing itself to the throes of business and finance. The technical qualities are pretty decent and the supplemental material isn’t too shabby either. If you’re a fan of film, you should at least give Diva a spin to see what the perceived fuss is all about.