Diva (1981 film)

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Film poster
Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix
Produced by Claudie Ossard
Irène Silberman
Serge Silberman
Screenplay by Jean-Jacques Beineix
Jean Van Hamme
Based on Diva 
by Daniel Odier
Starring Frédéric Andréi
Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez
Richard Bohringer
Music by Vladimir Cosma
Cinematography Philippe Rousselot
Edited by Monique Prim
Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte
Les Films Galaxie
Greenwich Film Productions
Distributed by Compagnie Commerciale Française Cinématographique
Release dates
  • 11 March 1981 (1981-03-11) (France)
Running time
117 minutes[1]
Country France
Language French
Budget about 7.5m FRF[2] then about $1.5m (USA)
Box office $2,678,103 (USA)[3]

Diva is a 1981 French thriller film directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix, adapted from the novel Diva by Daniel Odier (under the pseudonym Delacorta). It is one of the first French films to let go of the realist mood of 1970s French cinema and return to a colourful, melodic style, later described as cinéma du look.

The film made a successful debut in France in 1981 with 2,281,569 admissions, and had success in the US the next year grossing $2,678,103.[4] The film became a cult classic and was internationally acclaimed.


Young postman Jules is obsessed with Cynthia Hawkins, a beautiful and celebrated opera singer who has never had a performance of hers recorded. He attends her performance, secretly and illegally records it. He also steals the gown she wore from her dressing room.

Jules also comes into possession of a tape that contains the testimony of a prostitute which exposes Saporta, a high-ranking policeman, as the boss of various rackets. The prostitute, Nadia, drops the recording in the bag of the postman's moped moments before she is murdered.

In danger from Saporta's enforcers as well as from Taiwanese gangsters seeking the Hawkins tape, Jules seeks refuge with his new friends, a young Vietnamese-French woman named Alba who is muse to the mysterious bohemian Serge Gorodish, to whom she introduces Jules.

Meanwhile, feeling guilty, Jules returns Hawkins' dress. She is initially angry, but eventually, forgives him. Cynthia is intrigued by the young Jules' adoration and a kind of romantic relationship develops, expressed by the background of the piano instrumental, "Promenade Sentimentale" of Vladimir Cosma, as they walk around Paris in the Jardin des Tuileries early one morning. The Taiwanese try to blackmail Cynthia into recording for them as they claim that they have a copy of her performance.

Meanwhile Saporta has sent his henchmen to take care of Jules and the other tape. After a chase through the Parisian subway system Jules is rescued from them by Gorodish. Later Jules returns to his home where Saporta tries to kill him. Once again Gorodish saves the day by making Saporta fall down an elevator shaft.

In the film's final scene Jules plays his tape of Cynthia's performance for her and she expresses her nervousness over hearing it, as she "never heard [herself] sing."



Highlights of the soundtrack include the aria Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from Alfredo Catalani's opera La Wally, and a pastiche of Erik Satie's Gnossiennes composed by Vladimir Cosma.


Initial reaction[edit]

Diva played for a year in Paris theaters. David Denby, in New York, upon its 1982 American release, wrote "One of the most audacious and original films to come out of France in recent years...Diva must be the only pop movie inspired by a love of opera."[5]

Film critic Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars and praised its cast of characters.[6] He called Beineix "a director with an enormous gift for creating visual images" and elaborated on his filmmaking:

The movie is filled with so many small character touches, so many perfectly observed intimacies, so many visual inventions—from the sly to the grand—that the thriller plot is just a bonus. In a way, it doesn't really matter what this movie is about; Pauline Kael has compared Beineix to Orson Welles and, as Welles so often did, he has made a movie that is a feast to look at, regardless of its subject. [...] Here is a director taking audacious chances, doing wild and unpredictable things with his camera and actors, just to celebrate moviemaking.[6]

—Roger Ebert

Ebert also praised the film's chase scene, writing that it "deserves ranking with the all-time classics, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The French Connection, and Bullitt."[6]


Since its re-release in 2007, Diva has received retrospective acclaim from film critics; review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 96% based on reviews from 45 critics, with an average score of 8 out of 10.[7] Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave it an A rating and praised its "voluptuous romanticism". She wrote of the film's visual ties to cinéma du look, "the movie's mad excitement hinges entirely on the pleasure to be had in moving our eye from one gorgeously composed stage set of artifice to another."[8]


The film was entered into the 12th Moscow International Film Festival[9] and was also selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 54th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "DIVA (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. 1982-06-17. Retrieved 2013-02-02. 
  2. ^ Beineix, Jean-Jacques, Chris Routledge, Filmreference.com, Undated.Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  3. ^ Diva Movie - Diva - Movie
  4. ^ Diva (1981)- JPBox-Office
  5. ^ New York Magazine - Google Books
  6. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1982). "Diva". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  7. ^ "Diva". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment. Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  8. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (November 16, 2007). "Diva Review". Entertainment Weekly (964). Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  9. ^ "12th Moscow International Film Festival (1981)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-01-26. 
  10. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

External links[edit]