Jean-Jacques Beineix's "Diva"
September 16, 2011 7:31 PM   Subscribe

The French romantic thriller “Diva” dashes along with a pellmell gracefulness, and it doesn’t take long to see that the images and visual gags and homages all fit together and reverberate back and forth. It’s a glittering toy of a movie... This one is by a new director, Jean-Jacques Beineix... who understands the pleasures to be had from a picture that doesn’t take itself very seriously. Every shot seems designed to delight the audience. - Pauline Kael, 1982 posted by Trurl (33 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Beineix went on to make The Moon in the Gutter and Betty Blue. (très NSFW)
posted by Trurl at 7:31 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This movie came out when I was a pretentious 9th grader in NYC. I saw it once and was in love with it (I had been to Paris a couple of times to visit family and friends, and fancied myself a Francophile.)

I would cut class at least once a week to go see it for as long as it ran at the Paris Theater (I think that was it.) I taught myself how to play "Sentimental Walk" by ear, and can still play it (without the echoing piano effect.) I wanted desperately to grow up and be Monsieur Gorodish, to have a loft and understand the zen of buttering bread and washing dishes.

It made me think I wanted to go to film school which I did, but more importantly it provided one of the few fantastical escapes in my life when I really needed it.
posted by ltracey at 7:50 PM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed Diva. The same cannot be said for Betty Blue, which I recall quite vividly back from the 80s.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:50 PM on September 16, 2011

One of the most enjoyable French movies of the last half-decade. I have seen it 5-6 times and never tire of it. A beautiful work of film-craft and art at its finest.
posted by Vibrissae at 8:00 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Diva's great. The Moon in the Gutter's great - one of John Waters' favorites.

I've never seen Betty Blue, but I'm told it's godawful.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:04 PM on September 16, 2011

Reverie. That is my memory of this music. I had the tape and played it all the time. I must have watched the film over and over. The girl roller skating in the loft, the snorkel and mask onion chopping, the polka in the earpiece. Pure genius.

Is it even possible to get the soundtrack anymore? The DVD?

Thank you, Trurl ... this made my day.
posted by Surfurrus at 8:05 PM on September 16, 2011

Mine too. Thank you, trurl.
posted by ltracey at 8:08 PM on September 16, 2011

Saw this again a little while ago and was surprised that I remembered almost every single scene. The only thing that I didn't really remember was that the bad guy was Dominique Pinon, who is in most of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's movies.
posted by pinky at 8:11 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

FACT: Jean-Jacques Beineix was the second assistant director on The Day The Clown Cried.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:17 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I watched Betty Blue in the university library's media room, since it was part of a class assignment. The headphones on my television didn't work. The attendant came running quick.
posted by mkb at 8:20 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of my top five films. Responsible for my years of Citroen ownership, my love of French mopeds, my Nagra fixation, my desire to live in a garage full of wrecked luxury sedans or large empty black apartment with roller skates and a freestanding tub, and my stalking a beautiful black opera singer, though Denyce Graves and I did not enjoy rainy walks with an umbrella, what with me being a homosexual and all. She did once vomit on me, however, so that's sort of a thing.

My facebook profile used to include "cinema du look" until they fucked up profiles into some sort of weird advertising pyramid scheme. My nearly moribund livejournal account profile, however, does list it, though it's not in bold, which means no one else lists it. Seriously. No one else of all the millions of people on livejournal list thinks "cinema du look" is cool (or Marianne Sägebrecht, for that matter, which is why the world and I are not close friends). What's wrong with reality these days?

Have watched it hundreds of times, can lip-sync the damn thing, though I don't speak a lick of French beyond car part names for my Citroen. I can't say "crocodile" unless I say it the way Alba does, which further makes my closest friends and family roll their eyes.

The fact that there's no longer a repertory house near Veniero's where I can watch this in an actual theater, night after joyous night, is why I don't love NYC like I used to.

Which is to say that yes, I'm a bit of a fan.
posted by sonascope at 8:22 PM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

My friends and I used to watch either Diva or Putney Swope, when under the influence. I have no idea what appeal it would have for a sober person.

I've never seen Betty Blue, but I'm told it's godawful.

Well, it depends on whether you like angst and surprisingly graphic sex scenes. I was a 17-year-old virgin, and on a second date with my teenage boyfriend, when we saw it in a theater... so that was a little awkward. The angsty part resonated for me, at least. I learned recently that wonderful (and notoriously hot) singer Brody Dalle named herself after the actress who played Betty, which is very punk rock.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:27 PM on September 16, 2011

In case you were wondering, the cat in Diva is named Ayatollah.
posted by grounded at 8:32 PM on September 16, 2011

Just checking in to say that I love this movie, I've seen it about a dozen times, and I own this jacket (in black, not red.) (Completely coincidentally, my late brother wrote a monograph about the Citroën Traction Avant.)
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:55 PM on September 16, 2011

I think a lot about this movie -- it kind of occupies a permanent place in my psyche -- but I find I've returned to an idea, the idea that music is truly ephemeral, that a performance is a singular moment in time, and that no recoding can suffice to capture the entirety of the experience of being a part of the music as it is made, and as it passes back into the ethers from which it sprang. I'm moving back to a more improvisational space with music for the first time in a long time, and I find it gratifying in ways that creating or re-creating a song or recording isn't, chiefly because of that ephemerality.

What brings this back to the front of my brain after many years was an internal conversation I had with myself about the recent de-valuation of recorded music as a result of file sharing, the audience's insistence that an artist provide recordings for free & make their living via the live performance, for which they are still willing to pay. I had a thought for a band, which was if the audience is not willing to pay for recordings, then I would not be willing to make them, and they could just come see us live, which would be the only place to hear the music. Initially, this was a negative thought, but as I rolled it around in my mind while standing at a press one day, it turned around to be a positive thing.

If what an audience still values in music is live performances, then provide that thing of value in a way that frees the artists from the encumbrance of simulating a recording in the live setting, frees the audience from expectations based on a recording and allows for a singular, irrepeatable experience for both artist an audience, which increases the value of the live performance event, and makes each moment truly unique. It would be difficult artistically, and even when it worked, it would be difficult to let the good performances go, but I think it would be a worthwhile experiment.

If I can find the time to make it happen, I think I will do this thing.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:02 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Diva was my first art house foreign movie experience. I loved it. Such a mysterious thing for 19 year old me to watch after a steady diet of American movies. It's not in any way a shocking movie but it was a very different kind of movie than anything I had seen previously. The scene where he describes the zen of buttering the baguette, for some reason, really stuck with me. It is definitely a movie of small but important details.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:19 PM on September 16, 2011

I once had lunch with Philippe Djian, author of 37.2 le matin, which became Betty Blue. He mainly spoke about his love of Richard Brautigan's work.
posted by Wolof at 9:21 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I saw part of it again recently and was very happy to see it didn't seem at all dated. It's one of my all-time favorite films.
posted by rtha at 9:21 PM on September 16, 2011

You're costing me money -- I just ordered the DVD from Amazon.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:39 PM on September 16, 2011

You're costing me nothing -- I just found out my library branch has it. Muah ha ha!!
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:43 PM on September 16, 2011

[not library-ist, just acquisitive]
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:04 PM on September 16, 2011

My people! I wanted to live inside this film... You know what sold me? It was the scene where the woman got off the morning train, trying to blend in with the commuter crowd and she was barefoot. That scene was so disturbing.

I've got the soundtrack. On a cassette.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:08 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

[not acquisitive-ist, just poor]
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:08 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always wanted to live in that apartment and roll around it in roller-skates.
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:29 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

It was one of my favorite movies back them ("One From the Heart" was another) but that's probably from having watched them around the age of 20, and at the time they were made. I still like watching "Diva," and find "Betty Blue" even better. I just don't take for granted newcomers will be impressed by every vintage artsy gem, so I hardly ever recommend it. Probably better to let people get spellbound by accident.
posted by jcolombo at 10:31 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed Diva. The same cannot be said for Betty Blue

I love both, though of the two Diva is the better film. As a teenager, Betty Blue held my attention a lot better, but when I rewatched both this last year, Diva was far more captivating. (Like a lost little duckling, I think I imprinted heavily on Beatrice Dalle; that combination of huge eyes and batshit insanity left an impression to this day.)
posted by Forktine at 10:32 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Loved that film when it came out. I even went to the cinema to see it a second time. That hardly ever happened, even back then when I actually still went to the cinema.
posted by Decani at 3:16 AM on September 17, 2011

Great movie. Loved the chase sequence, which I now recognize as possibly an homage LeLouche.

I bought the soundtrack too, which I rarely do, especially for "La Wally" (I had a friend with a cat named Wally, so I thought that was quite funny.)
posted by carter at 4:06 AM on September 17, 2011

Daniel Odier, the fellow who wrote the novel that Diva the film was based on (under the pen-name Delacorta) was one of my top four favorite professors in school. Part of the shame of the liberal arts degree falling by the wayside, is that a truly great teacher can influence the way you think and approach the world, for the better. He was one of those types of teachers.

One day I showed up for class and prof. Odier said, "It's too nice outside to be stuck in here." He led the class outside and sat us down on the lawn. He brought pizza and soda for everyone, along with books of Daoist poetry (the class was on Daoism). It was one of those 'stop and smell the roses' moments you really don't get much of at university. As I recall, like most of my favorite teachers, he was not able to stick around there for long.
posted by jabah at 6:28 AM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's not polka though, it's musette.

We just watched Diva again a couple of weeks ago, and it was a lot of fun.
posted by sneebler at 6:42 AM on September 17, 2011

It's one of those beautiful things about life, how such simple stories can change us. When my sister dragged me to see Diva, I balked, because I was more of a science fiction nerd, not a sensitive europhile connoisseur of Hitchcockian mysteries with a eighties French gloss, and as I sat watching, my irritated pout turned to a transfixed gape. I have no idea if Diva is a great film, or even a good one, after all these years, because it's one of those touchstone moments we have in life where we watch the end credits rolling and know things just aren't ever going to be quite the same again.

The things come in flashes—

The music that snaps off as Jules closes the case on the Mobylette.
The dark, empty apartment, with Gorodish in his tub and Alba skating lazily in circles.
The diva and the ruinous stage at the opera house.
The second Citroën.
The way the headlights go out so slowly as they stop in the green woods.
The diva's umbrella.
The way Jules protests—"My Skelton!" when Alba discards her watch.
The straw, bent.
The mirrored shades, the mysterious overseas interest.
The abandoned factory.
The moment, hearing her voice for the first time.

It's all a blur, all of this, so familiar and still I find new things in each revisiting.

It's all just real, even though I know, and always know it isn't real. It's just a film.

These things, they ruin us, and ruin any notion of anticipating where we'll go, lest we pass up the promenade sentimentale for another day in the cubicle farm. Maybe it doesn't work this way for everyone, but for me, well, I bankrupted myself maintaining old Citroëns, got myself hit by a dump truck working as a moped messenger back in '86 on a bike identical to Jules' Mobylette, and I lopsidedly took up Zen, which didn't work and ejected me sideways into taoism, which did. I spent twenty years as a cog in the spook machinery of government contracting, escaping into huge, black lofts in the back of my head, listening to the diva singing the aria from La Wally on cassettes, then CDs, then minidiscs, and now just data streams on solid state media, just dreaming my way out of it, hoping to find a tape in the saddlebag on my Mobylette one day...but again, your notions are all wrong.

These days, I run a giant clock tower downtown in an old industrial city where young artists run in wild new directions and retrace worn paths in new ways, and if I follow the road that leads here, I find Diva, and I find Blade Runner, and The Red Balloon, and Full Circle and Another Green World and A Christmas Memory and The Dreaming and Harold and Maude and The Lathe of Heaven and more and more and more and all the brilliant artists at the end of all the strings that get pulled to send us on our way—

"Sentimental Walk," played for a friend, gets a recommendation to listen to Satie. Satie leads to Proust and Debussy, songs and stories bloom and blossom—all the endless ways we can go, and sometimes you just feel sad, realizing you'll never see that Paris, or fling open a garage to reveal a backup Citroën, and maybe you'll never get that sentimental walk in a gentle rain, but that film's just a film, just a starting point.

In the churning downpours that chased the hurricanes 'round here, I climbed the worn iron ladders from the top floor into the grey splendor of the clock room, where a hundred year-old machine runs all four faces from the center of the room like a spider in a web, and the glass of the clock faces glow with a cool, dispassionate light. There's a steady drip in front of the West face, a familiar byproduct of the aging infrastructure of the place, and I climb more steep steel stairs to get through the empty rooms and pass the abandoned radio station just below the top deck, and emerge in a blast of spray.

The West scupper's clogged with bird bones, leavings of the falcons' many dinners here, and crumbs of hundred year-old mortar, and I pull off my shoes to walk through the cool water and clear the drain with my bare hands, half filling a bucket I keep up here for this very endeavour, and as I often do, I pause, taking a moment to go halfway up the open spiral stair suspended in the airy blue arches of the cupola and just sit.

You can see the streets, hundreds of feet below, and the traffic building up for the evening's rush, and legions of umbrellas passing by on the sidewalks as people go where they're going, and the grey sky where it meets the jagged urban horizon, and lights are coming on everywhere, little golden pinpoints against the rainswept city.

I just sit, and it's something that would have transfixed me, too—the sight of a single figure suspended in the helical ironwork of an old, silly architectural indulgence from a long, long time ago, and when I'm lucky, I don't think of the spreadsheet I've got open on my desk of rental percentages or the list of prospective vendors to replace the balky pressure pump in the basement or the troublesome scuppers up here that drench the machine room if I'm not vigilant in my job. When I'm lucky, I'm in just the right state to recognize that I am already the star of the movie I might have dreamed up back then if it hadn't taken thirty years for me to figure out what's actually important.

The rain breaks and I step down to stand at the wall in the gap between the teeth of the battlements there and watch the umbrellas going by, and I count umbrellas heading for the train station, dreamily wondering if one of those might be an umbrella I'll share on a day like this. The train comes chugging in and it's just sort of magical, the way it slides in so—

—and I snap out of it, because it's my train, and the last train of the day, too, so I yank on my shoes and charge down all the ladders and stairs, dancing around like a kid in need of a toilet as the elevator takes its sweet time, then stop at my office for my bag and my umbrella, and take off like a jackrabbit.

If you're watching from the rooftops, I'm the one with the multicolored umbrella, chasing a train I've absolutely got to catch, unless this is one of those other lucky moments when everything changes. You'll see me again, though, so don't forget me.

People ask, sometimes, "what's art for?" and it's one of those silly questions.

It's for this.
posted by sonascope at 9:04 AM on September 17, 2011 [17 favorites]

I saw it, probably at the Harvard Exit in Seattle. Remember liking it a lot. Kinda feel sad now that I did not become obsessed.
posted by sammyo at 1:21 PM on September 17, 2011

Just saw it myself - one of Ebert's great movies (it is great.) Just wish I had seen it younger so it could have completely changed my life. I would have been open to it.
posted by borges at 9:42 PM on September 18, 2011

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