26 years later, 'Diva' is still delightful

Posted: January 11, 2008

A light-headed, fleet-footed French caper, Jean-Jacques Beineix's ultra-stylish Diva stormed the art houses when it was released in 1982, and it's still a lot of fun now - though its hip patina feels more quaint these days than cool.

A neo-Hitchcockian bouillabaisse about a young Paris postal worker (Frédéric Andréi) who is obsessed with a beautiful opera star (Philadelphia's Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), secretly records her concert, and then finds his tape mixed up with a prostitute's cassette exposing an international crime ring, Diva has beautiful women, sinister mobsters, crooked cops, and a great chase scene up, down and through the Paris Metro.

Beineix made his directing debut with Diva, and went on to make the revered eroto-classic Betty Blue (and also, it turns out, a 1997 version of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for French television). With a witty nod to vintage American gangster pics, he steers his unwitting hero - who scoots around town on a moped - through various cloak-and-dagger stunts perpetrated by a pair of French thugs and a dueling pair of Taiwanese bad guys in skinny suits and big mirrored glasses.

The luxe-y interlude between Andréi's Jules and the opera star played by Fernandez has to be every obsessive fan's fantasy come true: First she draws him a bath, and then she rehearses "Ave Maria," for his ears only.

A moment of heaven, before the chase begins anew.


Diva *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix. With Frédéric Andréi, Richard Bohringer, Thuy An Luu and Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez. Distributed by Rialto Pictures. In French with subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 57 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (violence, nudity, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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