Thursday, December 04, 2008


Sophisticated brilliance: this was enough to turn the world of French and world cinema upside down, and catapult France from the New Wave to the Cinema of Look. Jean-Jacques Beineix's debut feature, Diva, started it all: cinema du look; and stories with preposterous settings, uncanny twists, unimagined camera angles, and unexplained monstrosities in the storyline came into being. But yes, all forgiven: once you have Beineix's Diva or Luc Besson's Nikita.

The film is not at all shallow in spite of being nothing more than a crime noir with not too great a story and no punches hidden in the screenplay. The cast, the camera work, and the director's vision and energy take you by storm before you realize anything else. The film is an interesting study on solitude, what I call the "fetish of personal", and how much right does the world have to infringe upon it, and how much right are we to deny that. How much of our space is ours? The film plot itself hinges upon two recordings: one of a singer's voice, who believes her voice, her emotions, her singing would be reified if recorded and hence is against it; the other which could incriminate and expose a respectable man who is running a ring of prostitution and drugs. A postman (Frédéric Andréi), a medium of people's voices and nothing more, is the hero who must take care of both these recordings. Quintessentially, the film remains the slow French film, in spite of being a crime thriller. So that even the long double chase sequence of Andréi, shot so stunningly by Phillipe Rousselot, remains a visual treat of slow motion; and the cast of Richard Bohringer and Jacques Fabbri itself gives some extra gravity to a film already reeling with some kind of dazed energy.

The visual spacing, the sets, lighting and colors, and the strange sort of unexplained knick-knacks of the story as well as the decor further add up to the message of privacy that should be violated. No one knows what is the exact relationship between Bohringer and 14-year-old Alba (played remarkably well by Thuy An Luu), nor what exactly Bohringer does: equally abstruse are the waves that balance in his large studio-cum-residence, nude photos of Alba hanging all round, and a bathtub right in the centre of the vast, vast dark expanse. And almost completely opposite, garish, and equally over-the-top is the garage where Andréi himself lives: not the least the means of access to it, which plays an important part in the climax. Beineix believes in going over the edge, and this is what he has done right in his debut feature: and we enjoy going jusqu’au bout with him. Life is a little more than simple black and white, simple and rigid ethics, a simple question of what’s right and wrong, a simple seen and unseen: which is why we have actions occurring in people’s sunglasses, we have a bright shining red helmet almost through the film, we have people’s shadows and silhouettes framed against artificial lights equally well as the sun, and we have a lighthouse coming in with equal ease as the Champs-Élysées. À voir absolument.