I worried about seeing Diva again, on the occasion of the movie’s 25th anniversary rerelease, even with retranslated subtitles on a new 35mm print that does justice to the echt-’80s palette of electric blues and reds. I worried the way someone who lived through the ’80s ought to worry about looking at photos of herself in what she once prized as her chicest leg warmers. Would Jean-Jacques Beineix’s movie live up to my memory of its drop-dead French pop cool, a sensibility so buzzy that I went back for three more fixes within the first week of its New York City opening in 1982?
Would a thriller about Jules (Frédéric Andrei), an opera-mad French postman on a moped; his unauthorized concert tape of the notoriously recording-shy African-American soprano (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez) he idolizes; a pair of unsavory Taiwanese music pirates who’d like that tape at all costs; a Mutt-and-Jeff couple of hitmen doing dirty work for a rogue cop; a roller-skating, shoplifting Vietnamese teenybopper named Alba (Thuy An Luu); and her impossibly silky, rich hipster protector (Richard Bohringer) who goes by the monomoniker of Gorodish seem, oh, ho-hum a quarter of a century into the world of MTV?
Sinking into the voluptuous romanticism of Diva now, with eyes all the more familiar with the elements of West-meets-East, comic-bookmeets- noir, punk-meets-rococo popular entertainment, everything once new about Diva seems new again. And the mechanics of Beineix’s artistic audacity only become clearer: Not for nothing was the new New Wave of French filmmaking he unleashed called the cinéma du look. Diva is based on one novel in a series about Gorodish and Alba by the pseudonymous ”Delacorta,” but the movie’s mad excitement hinges entirely on the pleasure to be had in moving our eye from one gorgeously composed stage set of artifice to another.
The stakes pile up — at one point Jules revs his moped through a Paris Metro station, chased for reasons we know but he doesn’t. But even mid-pursuit, Beineix aerates the tension with a spritz of isn’t-this-a-gas? delight. In Jules’ industrial-warehouse digs, with its tenderly curated collection of wrecked cars, Beineix allows time for us to tour the superb, early art-grunge interior. In Gorodish’s cavernous living quarters, every object qualifies as a fetish conversation piece: packets of Gauloises cigarettes, a jigsaw puzzle, a snorkel and mask worn when Gorodish chops onions.
This time I noticed that no one really has a family in Diva. The diva is a lonely American in a Paris hotel; Alba was a hitchhiker when Gorodish picked her up. Jules lives in a garage, in love with a recorded voice — his is the loneliness that’s the blue underside of supercooldom. Who knows what I’ll find next time I goggle, in love with the Diva ’80s all over again.
- Annie Lennox