BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: cinéma du look.

A RIDICULOUS film made by a film lover can sometimes be the best hug in the world. Freewheeling through genres, visual styles, homages, narratives, Diva is an oh-so stylish paean to cinema. While Beineix became more famous for his later Betty Blue, Diva was a wonderful debut for a director who has languished in obscurity for the last couple of decades. Breaking free from the angst and experimentalism of the later Nouvelle Vague films, and capturing the anarchic spirit of the early Godard/Truffaut work, Diva helped kick-start a new era in French filmmaking (which was carried on by films such as Mauvais Sang). The so-called cinéma du look movement (if it can be called that) touched on more contemporary concerns while also pitting a punk kind of aesthetic onto its protagonists.

Postie Jules (Frédéric Andrei) is obsessed with American opera singer, Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelminia Fernandez). He sneakily records one of her performances, catching the eye of Taiwanese gangsters. While delivering his mail, he also gets accidentally caught in a prostitution ring. This, naturally, leads to murder, corruption, extortion, theft, and all those things which make a noir/action/thriller. But the film is also a romance, a kind-of musical/comedy. Paris is shown as a more multi-cultural place than many of the Nouvelle Vague films (though obviously Hawkins was American), and the streets and milieu are as globalised as the iconic Paris can get. The film also features one of the best chases I’ve ever seen, as the starry eyed Parisian streets, and the métro take centre-stage.

The success of the film is its ability to stick all its disparate threads into one coherent film. In this respect, it mirrors the generic hybridity of the cult films from Hong Kong and Korea. The film’s mise-en-scène was never fixed: long tracking shots, abrupt shots, jump cuts add to the confusion, while the sound mix was also similarly schizophrenic. Film lovers may have recognised some of the homages (the most obvious was the Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch one) but the film never seemed bogged down by its references. It was pretty simple despite its seemingly complex narrative, which would digress, ignore key figures, throw in characters from nowhere, and force you to suspend belief that things like that can possibly ever happen – all you do really need is a girl and a gun (or perhaps an ice-pick). And while it’d be easy to call the exercise superficial, a triumph of style over substance, the film also wears its heart on its sleeve. Ultimately, it’s a fun and deeply romantic film, which speeds away in its delight for cinema and love.