Thursday, February 02, 2006


Jules is a likable young Parisian mail carrier who does his job on a moped. He’s a peculiar mixture of idealistic innocence and hard-boiled realism. He’s also an opera fanatic benignly obsessed with black opera star Cynthia Hawkins. His obsession is so powerful, in fact, that he surreptitiously makes a bootleg recording of one of her performances with a high quality tape recorder and then steals one of her gowns and later pays a black prostitute to have sex with him while she wears the gown.

But little does Jules realize that his already unconventional life is about to become wildly and dangerously complicated. For two Taiwanese businessmen happen to be sitting behind him while he’s taping the diva’s concert, and they make it very clear to him afterward that they WANT that tape and will go to almost any lengths to get it. Why? Because Cynthia Hawkins doesn’t believe in recordings. She believes that capturing her singing on tape robs it of something precious and constitutes a kind of “violation” tantamount to rape. So, Jules’ pristine recording is a priceless commodity for unscrupulous persons who, unlike Jules, want to exploit its commercial potential.

Yet, this is the least of Jules’ difficulties. For one day while he’s delivering the mail, a desperate woman drops a cassette tape in one of his moped saddlebags just before she’s murdered, and some very sinister characters are determined to get it back and make absolutely sure that young Jules never tells anyone what’s on the tape. When the police become aware of this, poor Jules finds himself pursued by crooks, cops, and murderers.

Fortunately, he befriends a beguiling Vietnamese waif and her mysterious boyfriend who has a thing for Zen-like reflection and real talent for ingenious subterfuge, and he also enjoys a wonderfully sweet romance.

When I first saw
Diva in the theater in 1981, I was bowled over by its mesmerizing music, visual style, unconventional storytelling, and quirky characters. I wasn’t bothered in the least by the fact that it was a French film with English subtitles. That just gave it more authenticity, as did real-life opera star Wilhelmenia Fernandez as the diva. I also liked Frédéric Andréi as Jules, Richard Bohringer as Gorodish and, especially, Thuy An Luu as Alba. I have seen the film several times since then and enjoyed it just as much if not more each time.

Diva is one of my favorite films of all time. I give it an A+.

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