DIVA (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1981)

His exhilarating Diva, from the crime novel by Delacorta (Daniel Odier), gave no hint of what a depressed filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix would subsequently be. For all its corrupt cops, and for all the deadly danger that befalls young Jules, the Parisian postal carrier on his agile moped, there’s such an air of innocence about this film. One may say that it captures Jules’s innocence at an exquisite point of loss.
     Its complicated plot is set in motion by three events: because renowned U.S. diva Cynthia Hawkins refuses to record, opera fan Jules tapes a live performance of hers on the sly; this tape gets switched with a tape connecting the police commissioner with the mob; the incriminating tape must be retrieved, no matter what. Jules is saved in the nick of time by a bohemian philosopher named Gorodish.
     One aspect of the film overwhelms me with its beauty and power: the playing-out of the relationship between Hawkins and Jules, who along the way briefly become lovers. At the last Jules confesses to his goddess what he has done, playing for her the glorious result: his tape of her singing “Ebben! Ne andrò lontana,” from Catalani’s La Wally, with its piercing surmise of parting and eternal separation. Surely she will lambast the boy—only, she doesn’t. She listens, and responds with wonder: “I have never heard myself singing before.” The poignancy of this utterance lies in its relation to the biblical account of the Fall of humanity. What if . . . ? Beineix’s film ponders—What if God had forgiven us our transgression, sending us forth rather than casting us out? What if he had regarded his own power, his “voice,” instead of inflicting it on us? No exile, no fraternal strife? No wars? What if?

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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