06 February 2009

DVD: Jules, the Diva and me

I can't say that Diva (1982) introduced me to foreign film, but it sure seemed a revelation at the time. More than the stylish sets or the huge swaths of (French) blues and reds (now referenced as elements of the "cinema du look"), it was the sheer attitude of the venture that won my heart. Our hero Jules is a moped-riding postman with an opera fixation that is concentrated on an American soprano, Cynthia Hawkins (played by the real-life! soprano Wilhemina Wiggins Fernandez). He also has a seriously cool stereo system and recording gear that allow him to make a bootleg tape of the singer, who has a purist's view of music and the audience and refuses all attempts to record her.

This would be story enough for most small films today, but this is meant to be a thriller--based on the short novel of the same name--and there is a second plot involving record pirates, a prostitution/sex slavery ring, mobsters and corrupt cops. The bonus here is the incomparable couple Gorodish and Alba, he a chain smoking Zen philosopher, she a roller skating teenage shoplifter/model. They live in an open, industrial loft that is impossibly stylish and lead mysterious, impossibly swank lives.

I suppose it would be relatively easy to sum up the plot, but you can find that anywhere. You probably won't find much referencing the beautifully sung aria from La Wally that may make you love opera, the Gauloises smoke that flits through Gorodish's loft with a hint of blue, the giant jigsaw puzzle (which I've searched for for years), or the smooth-skinned, sly Alba--a girl any 19-year old could fall in love with. You can find film critics waxing snobbery about how the film looks dated because it has been so imitated.

Do yourself a favor and don't listen to them. Here is a snippet (note the mirror-shaded Taiwanese gangsters behind Jules!):

(credits via Wikipedia):

Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix
Produced by Claudie Ossard
Irène Silberman
Serge Silberman
Written by Jean-Jacques Beineix
Jean Van Hamme
Based on the novel by Delacorta
Starring Frédéric Andréi
Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez
Richard Bohringer
Music by Vladimir Cosma
Cinematography Philippe Rousselot
Editing by Monique Prim
Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) March 11, 1981
Running time 117 min (France)
123 min (United States)
Country France
Language French
Budget 7.5m ff

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