Director Jean-Jacques Beineix is probably more famous for Betty Blue but his 1981 debut, “Diva”, has a beauty of its own. Several, in fact. The first being American soprano Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, who plays a determined, beautiful opera singer, Cynthia Hawkins, that refuses to record any of her work. I very much like this idea of a singer who has never heard their own voice played back to them.
The incredibly beautiful Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez
What draws me to Diva isn’t the plot, which hasn’t aged too well. A sort of tangled story of love, corruption and deceit. The aforementioned Wiggins Fernandez literally glows throughout the film as the main character’s love interest. Her rendition of Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally is heart-wrenching. As is Vladimir Cosma’s, who created the soundtrack, Satie-inspired Promenade Sentimental.
There are some truly spectacular scenes in Diva and credit needs to be given to the cinematographer, Philippe Rousselot. In fact, the whole film felt like a composition of image and sound. That probably sounds a bit obtuse as that is fundamentally what cinema is but each frame seems so carefully arranged that to watch Diva feels almost like flicking through a photographic album. Not to say that the film is devoid of emotion or suspense. The scene in which Cynthia and her young admirer Jules [played by Richard Bohringer] stroll around Paris in the early hours of the morning is one of the most tender love scenes I have ever seen.
Miss Hawkins’ wardrobe is also noteworthy. Doesn’t her one-shouldered dress, that Jules steals at the beginning of the film, remind you of Halston? Especially, Bianca Jagger?