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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

‘Diva’: A Supremely Stylish French Thriller about the Frantic Pursuit of a Bootleg Opera Recording

Movie poster for the French film Diva starring Frédéric Andréi and Wilhelmenia Fernandez

“Diva” (1981) is an electrifying and highly stylized French thriller starring Frédéric Andréi as Jules, a young Parisian postman obsessed with opera and famed American soprano Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Fernandez). Unable to purchase Hawkins’ music as she refuses to allow her singing to be recorded, Jules covertly captures a bootleg audiotape of her live performance at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord.

Entirely removed from Jules’ furtive act of piracy, a young prostitute named Nadia (Chantal Deruaz) is pursued through the streets of Paris by a pair of underworld henchmen styled "The West Indian" and "The Priest”. Nadia holds an audio cassette that implicates a senior member of the police force as the clandestine head of a drug and prostitution syndicate—a tape she surreptitiously stashes in Jules' mail bag without his knowledge. His eventual discovery of the highly inflammatory evidence sets the course for a desperate flight from the nefarious killers as well as a pair of Taiwanese operators intent on acquiring the highly valued Hawkins tape.

Co-written and directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix (“Betty Blue”) and based on the novel by Daniel Odier, ‘Diva’ is an exuberant and wonderfully playful caper that seamlessly balances artistry and titillation within the framework of a fast-paced thrillride. One of the first products of the neon-infused, 80’s-era “Cinéma du Look” movement that eschewed 70’s-era realism for a more vibrant and stylistic treatment, ‘Diva’ rests upon the throne of late-20th Century modernism as one of the finest international films of the entire era.


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