Staff Picks: DIVA (35mm)

“When I saw “Diva” back upon its original 1982 release, it was a true ‘wow,’ a filmic equivalent of the post-punk new wave music scene that was current. ” – Laura Clifford

We are excited to present Adrianne’s Staff Pick the iconic 80’s film DIVA on glorious 35mm and on the 35th anniversary of the U.S. release of Jean-Jacques Beneix’s debut feature.

Culture Vulture reminds us why this was such a revolutionary film when it premiered in the 80’s.


Young postman Jules (Frédéric Andréi, “Venus Beauty Institute”) makes himself a perfect opera bootleg tape, but he’s been observed by another member of the audience.  Later, a woman running from two thugs drops a second tape into his mailbag and he becomes entangled in plot that involves a prostitution ring, Taiwanese recording execs, a philosopher who dreams of stopping the waves and the opera star who believes music is fleeting and should not be recorded, Cynthia (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), a true “Diva.”


“Diva” was director Jean-Jacques Beneix’s bold experiment in recombining old, established movie conventions—both narrative and visual—in new and provocative ways. The film turned every aspect of film language on its head—character, plot, setting, music. Diva’s genre-mixing story of a young postal worker’s obsession with an opera singer—the diva of the film’s title—and his accidental involvement in a police investigation into a mob-driven drug and prostitution ring, was not so much a mélange as two independent plots that only barely meet at the end. It was a conscious revolt against the narrative order that was groundbreaking back in the days before Quentin Tarantino came along to show once and for all just how many narrative rules can be broken.

Art Direction

Beneix’s art direction is as eccentric and engaging as his characters. The film’s design is very much a product of the postmodern 80s; it’s a funky, imaginative pastiche of classical and modern influences, of high art and pop culture. There’s a surrealistic quality to the way Beneix combines references to other films, other genres, other cultures, other art forms, other lifestyles. The film is full of unpredictable juxtapositions that combine old world elegance, modern minimalism, and contemporary whimsy. Gorodish’s apartment is a cavernous modernistic warehouse with an old-fashioned clawfoot bathtub at one end, and he sits in it while smoking Gitanes like a medieval lord, his miniskirted underage companion roller-skating blithely around him. All that’s missing is a pink flamingo.

Even the film’s chase scene, a requisite part of any police thriller, is twisted into something utterly original. Twenty-five years later, watching a boy on his moped, his head completely covered by a helmet that makes him look like he just came from outer space, being chased through the Paris subway, bouncing up and down stairs and on and off trains, is still fresh, still exciting in its unconventionality.


The most memorable aspect of Diva’s postmodern fusion is the high culture music that it co-opts into its pop narrative. The film is now synonymous with the famous operatic aria performed by Wilhelmenia Fernandez at the beginning—a gorgeous performance of “Ebben ne andro lontana” from the opera “La Wally” by Alfredo Catalani. Both that aria and a haunting tune reminiscent of Erik Satie by the film’s composer Vladimir Cosma are played in their entirety, allowing the music to take over to such a degree that is rare in cinema.

You don’t want to miss rare opportunity to see this film projected on the big screen just as it was meant to be seen on 35mm.

Dir. Jean-Jacques Beneix, 1981, France, 123 mins, 35mm in French with English subtitles




Staff Picks: DIVA (35mm): Upcoming Showtimes