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Slick and sly, Diva returns to the spotlight

Wednesday, Nov 28 2007

In the spring of 1981, Jean-Jacques Beineix unveiled his debut film in Paris: a brash, snazzy thriller about the infatuation of a sullen young deliveryman (Frédéric Andréi) with a reclusive opera diva (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), the bootleg he makes at one of her performances, and the dizzy dilemmas that ensue. Diva contrived a new sensibility that came to be known as “cinéma du look,” a Franglais label for the micro-movement of superstylish, unabashedly romantic pictures made throughout the ’80s. “The reviews were horrible,” Beineix recalls in the press notes for the 25th-anniversary re-release. Lingering in theaters a full year after its premiere, Diva gradually became a hometown hit; by the time it opened in New York, it was a phenomenon. A quarter of a century later, a glut of übergroovy meta-thrillers has blunted the novelty, but Diva’s still a kick. The breezy, harebrained plot spins out from a mix-up over a pair of audiotapes: the opera bootleg made by Jules (Andrei) and the one he discovers in a side pocket of his scooter, stashed there by a prostitute before she was killed for its contents — testimony that implicates a police chief in a white-slavery ring. The chief dispatches a pair of ineffectual cops to investigate the dead hooker, and a goofy thug duo to retrieve the tape. And Beineix keeps going, fearless and foolish, piling extravagance upon extravagance. (Nuart)

—Nathan Lee

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