Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2004

Diva (1981)


Discussion Questions:
last updated December 28, 2004

The question for this film asks for a reflection on the assigned images (screen captures) and some thought on the use of this architectural space and cinematograhic devices in the film. Why was it chosen? What is the architectural/cultural signficance of the choice? Was it successful?

Each thumbnail below is linked to a larger screen capture of the same image in case you need to see the image in greater detail.

Your name is BELOW the series you are assigned. I have doubled up on some questions -- as we will be having to consolidate our discussion time for this film a bit. You are each to do a separate answer. I will be selecting one of you to present your answer, the other person will present their answer to Playtime.

Please keep your answers to 400 words max so that we have time for discussion. Thanks.

The director, Jean-Jacques Beineix, has placed the story/action in a series of carefully chosen settings, the majority of which are "real" spaces in Paris and its environs. Comment on the use of these spaces in the film, suitability of their choice. Make comparisons to "Playtime" where applicable. How has the music been altered to suit both the space and the action/story for this setting?

The Opera House: Anne-Marie Armstrong + James Arvai

Anne-Marie Armstrong:
Settings in the film Diva are visually stunning, creating a deeply textural backdrop for the action of the film to unfold. The three images of the opera house, the first displaying the relationship of the audience members to each other, the second the opera house seats to the performer as experienced by her and thirdly, the performer to the audience as experienced by the audience. These images, richly textural, deeply shadowed and hued accentuate the overall action of the film. The operatic performance resonates with all those in the house. The audience is transfixed by the diva and the performer is connected to the audience. The opera house effectively becomes a spiritual place which elevates all those who participate within it.

The vision of Jacques Tati’s Paris is seen in direct contrast to the film, Diva. The setting in Playtime expresses man’s alienation in the modern world, the setting of Diva, suggests the richness of history and the connection of individuals to each other through the power of music performed in an intimate performance space.

Beineix contrasts the cleanliness of Paris’ main streets against the dark griminess of the industrial area. In the closing scene, set in the Opera house, as an audience we initially liken the setting to a back street due to its similarity in texture, lighting, etc. The shot pans out to display the breath of the stage and we understand the staged quality that the film tries to convey.

James Arvai:
The set of the interior of the Paris Opera House is used in the film Diva to define and frame a key element of the film, the elevation of a singing performance to a spiritual experience. Jules in his humble working class Postman’s uniform is first shown gazing at the temple-like interior where he is about to participate in the sacred event, the singing of an aria by his chosen high priestess. The last image showing Cynthia singing reinforces that the magic happens because of her singing, not because of the setting. The stage setting is flanked with peeling columns and a bare wall for a backdrop.

The second image has the priestess, Cynthia Hawkins, staring at the empty but imposing temple finally able to participate in the spiritual moment by hearing her own singing for the first time. This is the image that isolates the event as an object, a spiritual object, finally viewed by the creating subject as something that is distinct from herself. She no longer is just part of the dialectic of the audience and singer interaction but is now able to hear the singing as a separate object. She can enjoy the event and be moved the same way as Jules is moved.

The reconciliation of this subject-object split is well framed by the interior of the Paris Opera House. The singing of an aria has a cultural context that fits this setting. It successfully conveys a spirituality and longevity, a larger than a person dimension, that helps to elevate the singing as an event that means more than entertainment. The scale of the building alone implies a scale to the significance of the event. To Jules, it is a fitting house of worship.


Diva's Apartment: Joshua Bedard + Matthew Bolen

Joshua Bedard:
Jean-Jacques Beineux’s 1980 film “Diva” gives us a voyeuristic view of two contrasting lifestyles. One is the glamorous lifestyle of the diva, Cynthia Hopkins, while the other is of a mail courier named Jules. Bieneux uses architectural space and cinematography to carefully give us a voyeuristic view into the lifestyles of each. This is most evident upon viewing the dwelling of each.

Both live in large spacious lofts. Jules’ loft in particular is much darker and dungy looking then Cynthia’s loft. Just as Jules and his obsession with Cynthia remain a mystery to us so does his loft. In his loft we see very neutral colours along with various objects dangling and spread all over. In this sense, his loft appears as a shady auto wrecker’s garage. It accurately depicts the conditions you would predict for the young courier. Not only does this help in the development of Jules’ character but it also helps reinforce the mystery aspect of the film and create an environment for the action aspect of the film to unfold.

Cynthia’s loft on the other hand drastically differs from Jules. It is broken down in scale in comparison to Jules’ loft. Here we see several intimate rooms that link one another. Although they are part of her decor (can be seen in all three images). These rooms help produce a sense of intimacy. It helps establish the diva’s relationship with Jules on a more personal level rather then a distant unapproachable crush. It also provides the proper set for Jules’ love for Cynthia to unfold. Overall we can see how the Diva’s apartment supports the romance aspect of the movie.

Accurately, Cynthia’s apartment is what we would expect of a modern Diva. It is lavishly decorated with many elegant items. These elegant items range from the grand chandeliers to the rich fabrics found throughout her loft. Her status as a diva is further reinforced in the second image when we see that even orange juice is served in a wine class. All these impressive items help to reinforce Cynthia’s status as a modern day diva. For instance we can also see observe in the second photo that even orange juice is served in elegant wineglasses. This is something we would not find unusual in the lifestyle of a modern diva. At the same time however the bright ambient colours help radiate Cynthia’s friendly personality.

Overall, through the use of set design Beineux provides us with an intriguing and voyeuristic view into the two contrasting lifestyles of the protagonists.

Matt Bolen:

The images of the Diva’s apartment captured from scenes in this movie effectively portray and describe the very character of the Diva herself. Unlike the two studio apartments this film depicted, the Diva’s apartment possessed a very traditional elegance with its use of colour and floral decoration, mantle and fireplace, classic furniture and enclosed intimate spaces. This traditional style which the apartment possesses is symbolic of the Diva’s character and her traditional view of music and musical production.

The use of cinematography was also used very effectively within the Diva’s apartment to show the contrasting relationship which exists between Jules and the Diva. In all three of the still images taken from scenes within her apartment, mirrors and reflections are used to show the great distinctions between these two characters. These distinctions include race, age and class. Through the use of cleaver cinematography, the two characters are always juxtaposed side by side. This emphasizes all of their distinctions causing the intimate connection they are able to achieve despite these differences all the more magical.


The Use of the Common Street: Liam Brown + Tammy Chau

Liam Brown:
The use of the common street takes on several different meanings. In all three screenshots we see that it is a vein of traffic for pedestrians, automobiles and the moped driver simultaneously. At once people are gathering on it or passing through it. Speed limits are determined by methods of travel more than they are of traffic patterns (a pedestrian can only go so fast). It is equally a destination as it is a transitional space, but most importantly it is inclusive of everyone (prostitutes and postmen alike) for the activities of life.

The street as a common place relieves the intensely personal city to something inclusive; it is the forum of life. It is the networking of the underground world in the movie. It is the means and method by which private becomes public, those people traveling in the personal space of the car can also just as easily be in the public pedestrian realm. In the same breath that someone is having a conversation a moped may weave around them, in a marriage of man and machine.

The film is shot mostly in private spaces: the lofts, apartments, the theatre (which in this case shall be private) and the lighthouse. The realm of the human being is an intensely personal one, as is illustrated by the Diva’s refusal to publicize her recorded voice. The street however is everyone’s public space. Jules records Cynthia Hawkins’ voice to enjoy on a strictly private level. Ultimately the threat of the recording being released through the streets, which are the public forum, offer a great fear as the street makes things available to all.

The street was the place of public revolution, so it is fitting that they take on this unanimous identity of the people, and so it is successful in its presentation. The street as
a catalyst for harmony between man and machine is also an interesting principle considering the revolution and the industrial revolution itself. Man and Machine, or Public and Private are themes that can be linked to the dichotomy present in the movie as another method of juxtaposition to enforce an idea or ideas.

Tammy Chau:

Streetscape plays an important role in depicting architectural spaces. It is constituted by typology, which reflects the history and culture of Paris. Whether the streetscape is an alley, row buildings, or tree-lined streets, they all make reference to different segments of history, and convey different moods and tempos. Director Jean-Jacques Beineix skillfully captures human event which enact within the streetscapes.

The first image depicts a narrow alleyway, barren walls, light-washed cool toned surfaces, perspective diminishes at one point – an intimate and enclosed volume. The dialogue between two characters becomes distinguished from the background; relationship between two strangers becomes parallel with the bleakness of which the architectural space suggests.

The second image, once again set up with perspective diminished at one point, streetscape enclosed by tall buildings build right up to a skinny side walk. It depicts a particular typology in Paris where open spaces are usually enclosed by court buildings instead of flanked in front of buildings, which leaves the only public space to be the skinny side walk. When groups congregate, especially postmen whose office is the street itself, the only sensible place is gaps between parking spaces. It is temporary, unstable, and introduces chaos and disruption to a perfectly rhythmical world. This parallels with Jules’ character, where his life exists among gaps of other people’s lives. Chaos (the plot) was ignited and signified by Jules as he spontaneously runs into events.

The last image is of a tree lined street, cars parked along one side, traffic on the other. Jules pushes his moped along as he chats with his new friend. The environment suggests a leisurely walk, no doubt reflecting the great vision of Champ Elysee when nature is brought into the urban environment. Nature and the city – two fundamentally conflicting elements are placed next to one another achieving the highest order of harmony. The setting parallels the crossing between the two characters lives. They are clearly of two different ends of society, yet, at the end they worked together and escaped the drug and sex scandal and the police chase.


The Loft: Shane Cyzypha + Natalie Drago

Shane Cyzypha:

Diva is a film about the juxtaposition of the dark, seedy underworld and the bright spotlight of the city of Paris. The dark world or crime syndicates, corrupt police officers and petty thieves is intertwined into a story of public fame and integrity, as seen in the Diva herself. The film is also about the juxtaposition of virtuous feeling to immoral acts. This is seen in Jules, a virtuous character who makes immoral mistakes such as stealing the Diva’s dress and making an illegal recording of her performance. These immoral acts are driven by his passion, his love for the Diva as a figure of integrity.

The screen shots have a very interesting focus on the contrast of light and darkness. The dark places parallel obscurities in character of the two artisans. They are like closed books. Their covers give an idea of who they are but much is not seen on this surface. The strange place and the strange activities and actions illustrate that they are not typical people, that they are not as they seem. The contrast of light and dark is a commentary on the coupling of the dishonest, immoral side of humanity with the compassionate, caring human side of these characters. They have a side that ignores virtue, as seen in acts of theft and blackmail, but they show through they’re kindness and loyalty to Jules that they are good people deep down.

Natalie Drago:
Although Diva is a film noir shot in color, it is a concrete manifestation of the outlooks and attitudes of it’s a post war era. It reflects the mood and characteristics of film noir, incorporated and thematically sustained by element of minimalist design and functionalist architecture. The components of the film from plot to theme, expressed through the cinematography are culturally significant and particular to their era.

Film noir was coined by the French film critics who noticed a trend of how dark and black the looks and themes were of may American crime and detective films released in France after the war. Film noir is a distinctive branch, sub-genre or off shoot of the crime/gangster and detective/mystery sagas of the 1930’s. Thee films are noted for their stark camera angles and movements, chiaroscuro lighting and shadowy high contrast images. In the shots of the loft from Diva we see the high contrast between light and dark as well a the contrast between colors as well, from white to black and vibrant pink to greens to blues.

The aura and presence of fear mistrust, bleakness and paranoia are readily evident in film noir scenes and settings, reflecting the “chilly” Cold war period when the threat of nuclear annihilation was ever present. The criminals, violent, misogynistic, or greedy, perspectives of heroes or anti-heroes in film noir were metaphoric symptoms of society evils, with a strong undercurrent of moral conflict.

In all three images the architecture reflects, enhances and reinforces the predominant and repetitive mood of the plot. The architecture is minimalist and functionalist, we experience a darker, seamier and less high tech rendition or section of Paris. Here we experience an evil disassociated from technology, the evils of crime and corruption. This film exhibits the moods popular or common to all film noir. The primary moods of all film noir were melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt, desperation and paranoia. Protagonists, heroes and anti-heroes distinctively were cynical, tarnished, obsessive, brooding, menacing, sinister, sardonic, disillusioned, frightened, and insecure loners (usually men) struggling to survive. These attitudes and manifestations of behavior, mental states and gestures are depicted and contained in on one level or another in all three photos, symbolic of film noir and the post war era.

Film noir films (mostly shot in gloomy grays, black and whites) showed the dark and inhumane side of human nature with cynical and doomed love, emphasizing the brutal, unhealthy, seamy, shadowy, dark and sadistic side of the human experience. The architecture expressed, supported and sustained the moods and transitions of the film, forming an oppressive atmosphere of menace, pessimism, anxiety, suspicion that anything could go wrong, dingy realism, futility, fatalism, defeat and entrapment all stylized and incorporated characteristics of film noir.

We experience in all three of the images of the loft, the techniques in cinematography particular to film noir. These techniques are marked by expressionist lighting, deep focus camera work, jarring editing, juxtaposition of elements, skewed camera angles, circling streams of smoke or steam, existential sensibilities and unbalanced compositions. Setting in film noir, here the loft space in Diva, were often interiors with low key lighting, venetian-blinded windows and rooms and dark claustrophobic, gloomy appearances. Exteriors were often urban night scenes with deep shadows, wet asphalt, dark alleyways, rain slicked or mean streets, flashing neon lights and low key lighting. Story locations were often in murky and dark streets or arenas, dimly light apartments and hotel rooms of big cities or abandoned warehouses, hence the loft. (Often times the war time scarcities were the reason for the reduced budgets and the shadowy stark sets of B-pictures and film noir)

Here the narrative of the space, time and composition, all reinforced the bleak minimalist design demonstrated by the frequent form of narrative coexisting within space, setting, time, plot and action in this film noir. Narratives were frequently mazelike and convoluted, typically told with foreboding aura and background music, flashbacks (or a series of flashbacks), witty and acerbic tone and dialogue, reflective or confessional and voice over narrative.

Therefore the architectural significance in the Diva, lies in its ability to enhance, express and support the tone, mood and plot of the film as well as its role in defining, describing and creating the setting, place an aura, sustaining action in this film noir. Film Noir not a genre but rather a mood style or point of view or tone of a film, deep rooted in social significance expressing a thought, sentiment and fears of a past post war era. Today people are able to look back through these films, and understand and interpret, the mood and mental state of Parisian society during a particular era. This makes the scenes of the film as well as the film as a whole a type of landmark within a history line and defines the film noir mood, attitude and outlook as culturally significant. Hence Diva is culturally and architecturally significant film by means of its mood and the development and incorporation of setting, space and place.


Film Noir Films


Misty Morning Walk through the Sights of Paris:

Vivien Liu:
The scenes that show Jules and Cynthia walking through the sights of Paris on a misty morning adds a melancholic sense that show the torments that the two characters in the film – Jules with the mob on his tail and the blackmailing by two Taiwanese businessmen for his bootleg copy of the Diva’s recording, and Cynthia herself with the dilemma of breaking her will to never record her voice on tape. The classical architecture in Paris are used to create a romantic scene (with a poetic piano solo in the background), but the rainy weather and the scale of the spaces are somewhat intimidating as the two characters stroll through the deserted city, adding to the sense of anxiety, reflecting the pair’s helplessness in the vast city. The empty and vast quality of the space together with slow-paced movement in the scenes contrasts sharply with the chase scene through the Metro earlier on in the movie, where fast-paced action happens within a very constricted space. Beineix successfully chooses the right spaces for the appropriate events to enhance the scenes in the film. The romantic walk through the vast spaces creates a soothing atmosphere while the chase scene through the narrow tunnels of the Metro creates a tense, adrenaline-pumping experience.

The celebration of the “real” landmarks of Paris in Diva contrasts with the obsession with the International Style in Playtime, where the presence of such landmarks is diminished to a mere reflection on the glass.

Andrea Krejcik:

In the film Diva, there is a contrast between the elegant high life of Paris and its more inconspicuous brass underworld. In one, a famed French opera diva enjoys her life of luxury, travelling from city to city. In the other, a delivery boy makes an honest earning delivering mail on his moped. In the plot of the film, the two characters run into each other, intermingling their two worlds. Some of the scenes take place in the dark streets and dwellings, and some in the more elegant settings of the Diva. The scene in which Paris is shown with a morning mist reveals a connection between the two worlds.
In the morning when Paris is just waking up from the night haze, there is a humanistic feel to the city. Parts of the crazy nightlife, along with the pristine sights of Paris are seen at the same time. There is a coming together of the two levels which is seen through the soft misty glow of the morning. It shows that both sides of the city which are viewed so differently are actually contained within the same thing.
Many of the major monuments of the city are brought into the same light as a small side street. The monuments become a backdrop which do not stand alone, but are blurred through the mist. The city becomes viewed through the same grey tonne. The graceful, elegant features of the city are seen with the same tonnes as the smaller, more wary looking side streets.
The scenes are successful in showing two worlds colliding. It shows not only the complexity and beauty of Paris in which the film is shot, but its raw human feel as well. Within the large frame of the monuments and clean image of Paris, there is an underside seen more when the night comes out. During the blurry mist of the morning, both the grand monuments are seen fusing in with the human nightlife of Paris.


The Lighthouse:

Elizabeth Myers:
The architectural significance of the lighthouse is one of contrast. The three images that were given emphasize isolation, purity of form, and a lack of place and time. This contrasts greatly with the portrayal of Paris is the film. The lighthouse became an escape from the city; it was a safe place, where time stood still with no connection to the city. In the film it was termed “the castle”, representing this idea of safety and seclusion. This sense of calm was needed to contrast with the energy of Paris. Where there is no place to hide, time can’t pause, and it seems as though space keeps folding into itself. The lighthouse represents this pure form, an object in a landscape completely separated from the city.

This idea in reinforced through the director’s use of cinematography. It does not show most of the journey to the lighthouse, except for a long straight approach with no evidence of any surroundings. In the scene where the car drives away, even the ground plane is eliminated from the shot to emphasize this lack of connection. It is never really explained where or what the “castle” is, leaving the viewer without any point of reference. This stresses the idea of a completely isolated, and therefore safe, sanctuary; a place completely different from Paris.

Aaron Nelson:

The architectural/cultural significance of the lighthouse or magic castle as quoted from the movie is that of a beacon of safety and reassurance in a time of danger, in-essence a helper. The car driving towards the lighthouse is symbolically like any sea vessel using the lighthouse as a beacon of safety from danger, only in this occasion the lighthouse will be used as shelter to help Jules recover from his gun shot wound. This reversal of space from exterior to interior when using the building as a sanctuary to heal and recover Jules wounds becomes an interesting and thoughtful architectural expression within the movie and a creative use of typology paralleling the story line.
Once inside the light-house the young oriental girl helps him back to health. The image of the girl holding apples to her chest reflects her own impatience to become older and to grow to maturity showing and strengthening her own mothering instincts when related to the helping of Jules, and her own journey within the movie as a young thief obsessed with an older artist.
The last image is simply a still shot of the white car parked outside the lighthouse, the image is deliberately divided in half vertically showing half of the image as sky, the dawn of another day, in many ways a peaceful morning in the safety of this building, a very successful choice and energy to explain the cinema.

  Jules' Loft:  



Through the Streets of Paris at Night:

Michael Votruba:
The night chase scene through Paris deals with the rapid speed of traveling through the city. This is a unique relationship to the city because it is one not commonly experienced when traveling to a city like Paris. The city appears through glimpses of light offering a fast pace view of the city. The city is a quickly passing fragment.

The first image shows the city from the perspective of the back of the moped. From the rapid motion of the scene the city is blurred because of how quickly the camera is traveling relative to the static city. The texture of the cobble stone street is understood only as the blur of lines of motion. The view is suffocated by the exhaust smoke exhaling from the back of the moped. Through the smoke is a view of the fast approaching case car.

The sequence depicts the city and its historical context as having the ability to be a high speed throughway for vehicles. The city offers many moments for the smaller moped to escape where the car cannot go. Large scale moments in the city allow the car to perform better in the case. While at small scale moments in the city, between buildings or down colonnades, the moped is quick and nimble and able to gain ground on the automobile. The street was not intended for this high speed, the city adapts to the chase, and is exploited for this purpose. The second image offers a view of a tighter space through which the chase scene must continue. Here there is an opportunity for the vehicles to become in close contact with the context. The chase continues despite the danger of high speeds in such a space.

The overall scene was successful in its application to moving the plot. It offers beautiful sequences of light and movement. It intensifies suspense and danger of the protagonist in a compelling manner. It exploit’s the city of Paris in a sequence that relates the will of corrupt powers over the city. The corrupt powers are willing to chase the protagonist anywhere is takes in order to obtain the tape of the diva’s performance. It shows the accessibility of the city in specific for the car. The city has fully adapted itself to the accessibility of the automobile portraying that there is no safe haven from it. The automobile can access anywhere in the city at high speeds.

Clementine Chang:

The film Diva makes use of carefully chosen settings and music to contrast the two very different worlds that Jules the young courier finds himself caught in. The elegance of Catalini’s opera music sets the dreamy atmosphere to accommodate Jules’ infatuation with Cynthia Hawkins. Meanwhile, the more modern accompaniment by Vladimir Cosma sounds out the dark criminal world of copyright pirates, drugs and prostitution.

The use of real spaces in Paris in Diva as opposed to a man-built set like that of Tativille in Playtime engages the viewers more intimately. It is intriguing to see the juxtaposition of ancient monuments and modern lifestyle. It adds another level of contrast onto the two distinct worlds that Jules is trapped in.

One of the most memorable parts of the film features the motorcycle chase sequence in the streets of Paris at night and into the underground subway. This sequence is urgent and full of uncertainty. The streets of Paris at night provide the necessary sense of mystery during the chase, putting the viewers closer to Jules’ position. It is interesting to note that the part of the chase that takes place above ground is in almost complete darkness. Whereas, the part of the chase that submerges below ground ironically shows much better visibility. The disorienting camera angles during the chase give a spinning effect while the regularity of rhythm through the arcades shows the high speed of the chase.

  The Subway: Mark Cichy  
  Cinematographic Devices:
The director uses many "devices" to create images in the film -- other than direct shooting of the image. Discuss the use of these devices based on the images/screen captures below. Note that these images do not necessarily represent all of the instances of this type of device use in the film.

Shooting through Glazing: Nancy Gibson

The purity of art is in peril if it does not become more savvy about the commercialism surrounding it. The postman’s high ideals are in peril due to his confusion about the danger he is in as well as ignorance of the base nature of another’s taste. He believes that another’s appreciation of opera is the same as his own when in fact theirs is largely based on the commercial value of rare recordings. This ignorance parallels his confusion about the real reason he has to defend himself and obscures thoughts that his life might be in danger.

The technique of filming scenes obscured by pebbled glass, through broken walls or through confusions of reflections could just be emphasizing the fact that things are not as they appear. Filming the chief inspector through pebbled glass is significant because he is actually the mastermind in the murder conspiracy. The view of the broken glass in the warehouse as a hidden person voices extortion instructions, emphasizes evil. The crazy distortions and reflections in the bowling alley scene reflect the craziness of the idea that a pirated opera should be the motivation for murder. Repeatedly, the obscuring shots mask evil intentions that are ignored at ones peril.
The obscure images are not merely employed literally but a large part of their effect is in the mood they create. A lot of Diva is filmed with a high art aesthetic. It appears there was a lot of effort placed in controlling the lighting and scenery to create a colourful and visually interesting piece of work. Many of the scenes look quite staged like the apartment of Gorodish and Alba. Then, the apartment of the postman which, although very industrial, is transformed by opera into a poetic place inconceivable without music. The artistic aesthetic of the postman in his wreckers loft is placed against the material one of Gorodish with his trendy lifestyle. I think most of this transforming power of this film comes from the cinematographer rather than the plot because most obscure shots are directed at transforming spaces and perception rather than furthering or clarifying the plot. I don’t think the images shot through textured or broken glass are meaningful until well afterwards, when their significance is considered. So, I think the primary purpose of obscured shots in this film is atmospheric.


Shadows: Julia Farkas

Beineix’s makes us of shadows as a cinematic device in ‘Diva’ to a number of ends. The projected image superimposes a 2-d world view onto 3-D reality. It adds a layer of implied meaning to scene that would not necessarily exist otherwise. The lines of the metal doors appear as jail cell bars implying a sense of imprisonment. The silhouette of the prostitute beside the statue highlights the relationship between the real and the ‘fake’ woman.

The high contrast images of the shadows falling on the wall reference the movies of the film noire era. The depicted female figure, similar to the femme fatale character was introduced as the element of chaos outside conventional social order. All four main female characters depicted in Diva women live outside the order (the prostitute, the kleptomaniac, the diva, the detective). Eventually each led the main character into different levels of trouble.

Diva portrays a very different Paris than that if the 1960s. The contrasting worlds of shiny glamour and desolate chic speak less of the effects of commercial modernism (Tati’s portrayal of the never ending office towers, the restaurant, the department store with seductive sales people) which preoccupied the directors of the mid-60s reflect rather on aspects of modern commercialism.

Both Godard and Beineix explore the theme of the female image in modern culture. Portrayals of the objectified woman as prostitute reoccur throughout the films. In Alphaville, the image of the objectified woman appears evidently as a 2-D model centerfold Lemmy uses as target practice while the real woman of Alphaville have been reduced to a state of despondent seductresses. In Diva, the silhouette of the female form devoid of articulate features apart from the curves of her body, an object without character to be gazed at without individual character engages the viewer in a dialogue about the portrayal of women in pop culture.


Reflected Images: Christian Tognela

I want to be your mirror – he says and he open a bag, he take out small make-up mirror.
While passing the mirror on her body, it mirrors her own image.
This is your face – he says
This is your voice – he says
Can you see? Am i better than any mirror?

I contracted agreement with my soul
now it’s naked and, can’t you see? It doesn’t reason anymore
as a moth palpitates to the lights
I go straight to the sound where you rules

Enough are the prodigies that you are
Important are the flavours that you give me
I go around you and swallows thrills
I go around you with no limits at all

I want the easy way to reach charming calm
I want you inside me to succeed’s like fulfilling gravity
taking place in the vortex...

Enough are the prodigies that you are
Important are the flavours that you give me
I go around you and swallows thrills
I go around you with no limits

It’s a film of the 80’s.
The colours, the story, everything is excessive.
I think that Jean Jacques Beinex used to be an author of the excess.
The opening sequence of his movie “37.2 le matin” could be another example.
Nothing seems to be normal. Neither the bad, nor the good!
The houses where people lives are excess, the way they act is excess.
They don’t have rooms. They have squares.
The way Beinex uses the camera is excess. The way he chose to have a frame in another frame, compared to Peter Greenaway for example, is the way of excess.
In a certain way we could say that if Peter Greenaway acts in a baroque way, Beinex acts in a manieristic way.
Distortion, reflex, convex lens, concave lens. All is excess.
It seems that we have to look at the world through deformations.
The car used in the late part of the film, the white Citroen, is just another excess.
Everything is on the edge, every single act.
Each situation seems to be pushed to a critical point.
All characters are on the edge, the edge of the excess.
If you think of the lighthouse...the edge of the edge! Beyond there’s nothing!
In the end, a Diva is pure excess.


Reflections in Water: Francesco Mancini

Waiting for sunshine outside

Reality is, sometimes, nothing but the reflection of our ego, a reduction to a mere speculation of what we consider stable, permanently right or wrong, true or untrue, with regard to our life and to our and other people’s rights. But sometimes truth, or better to say actual reality, is laid underground; it comes out just for brief moments, exactly like reflections in water (or mirrored images on the top of a car, temporarily parked down the street) after a rainfall of unpredictable events.
So happens to us: we want to see our self as a certain kind of person, and no matter how we behaved in real life. We always look for coming back to our lost pure integrity, to our innocence, if we ever had one. Our Ego does not accept our mistakes, our false behavior, he has a too good judgment of our self (sometimes a too bad one) and does not listen to any other voice, even ours.
But in the mirror of the water, before the ground adsorbs it again, for a few moments we catch our being and our inescapable history. “In the city I am never alone, I feel haunted, rewarded? I try to escape, but I cannot escape from my self”, ……. Rightly points out. No matter if we hope that the car we are driving will destroy the mirrored images squashing the water by the wheels. A car is just a car; its performance depends on the driver. So, From the moment we saw our reflection, fragments of a human being carrying a bag full of his past, everything is going to be different. Perhaps, from that moment on, like Narcissus, we look only for the accomplishment of our destiny, captured by our ego, who will drag us into the abyss attempting to erase the unbearable portrait of our person seen from the outside, somebody our ego cannot own. The only other choice is to accept our double identity, the inside and the outside, standing the judgment of the other, and carrying the responsibility that such awareness imposes. In the end we have to start hearing our voice singing, and perhaps listening to it, if it calls for help.

x 14. x

The Still Life: Adriana de Angelis

Paris again, but in all its splendour, is the protagonist of the film “Diva”. No science fiction, no metaphor, not only glimpses and flashes of its most famous monuments. No, it’s just La Ville Lumière en plein air with all its glory like in a modern Impressonist’s painting that is on scene. As a matter of fact the whole story, a unique love story, evolves around the city and maybe it would not have the same magic and charme if turned in a completely different town. People, streets, avenues, squares, metro and railway stations, restaurants, brasseries and hotels are on view like in the exaltation of the town done in the 19th century. This time, though, the painter is not Caillebotte, Renoir or Monet but a young French director that puts in his film all the taste and reality of the 1980s. “Diva” is at the same time a sophisticated noir like in the best French tradition and a sophisticated and elegant, almost unusual portrait of Paris and its inhabitants. Refined mises and dresses in the most perfect French fashion, police stations, murders and night life, French cuisine where even preparing a simple baguette is making art, plain and rich interiors with that typical, classic chic décor, but also houses and lofts with that particular, exquisite modern touch so trendy in a city like Paris in continuous evolution and change, always in search of adjusting itself to current events. Art is everywhere, you can almost breath it: in the streets, in the theatre where the diva sings, in the beautiful music, in the behaviour of people, in the photographs done by the photographer whose house, a magnificent loft, is all painted in black, almost a huge camera, to exalt the few, elegantly scattered objects. This way, against a black wall, even a bath tub, naturally Néo-classique, becomes a work of art, worthy a still life representation. Photography is the heir of Impressionism and cinema is strictly connected to it. The director then, just like a painter, loves to indulge on elegant scenes presented as single pieces of art. The film is full of these inspired pictures: a fantastic, exquisitely colored bouquet in the diva’s hotel room reminds of Fantin-Latour’s flowers and even a simple table together with other two almost incohert objects in a deserted factory becomes as splendid as a Chardin’s still life. Too much of aesthetics? Maybe, but it’s art, a pleasure for the eyes and at the same time it is an artistical, devoted tribute to Paris, still considered la capital de l’art.


(Shooting through) The Window/Door: Federica Martella

The various cinematographic devices are used by Beneix to show the reality from different points of view: there are number of specular mirrorings of the environment in chrome/water and of reflections in stained glass.
The world is presented as it appears through the particular “vision” of the director that cannot be assumed to be the truth: “the privileged human sense” does not show the reality in Beneix’ film Diva.
The environment is “pictured” rather than described as it is; in the film “representation” seems to be the only reality that exists underlying the distinction between being and appearance.
These visual choices create also misunderstandings, or lead in wrong directions: all the techniques are used to reinforce the idea that "looking" alone is misleading.

A similar way of showing the world is used by Tati: his movies are full of windows/doors placed to watch from a distance a series of daily actions.
The window/door in Tati is not simply an opening; it is also a reflecting surface or a specular creation that shows the world in a different way or that can create a “double”. In Playtime the city of Paris with his famous monuments is shown only through reflections on the wide windows of the modern skyscrapers; these glazed openings suggest then nearness between the inside and the outside of the buildings (even if it is always denied by the audio: it is not possible listen to the dialogues from outside).
(There is a funny scene in Mon Oncle where Mr. Hulot opens the window and hears a bird singing. He notices that the bird stops every time he shuts the window.
Mr. Hulot starts opening and closing the window, starting with this action the bird song. After a while the film camera moves down filming, in the shadow, a canary in a birdcage on the windowsill. At this point we can notice that, in the moment when Mr. Hulot opens the window, a beam reflected on the glass enlightens the birdcage and the canary starts singing.)


Looking Down/Up (unusual angles of view): Olivia Keung

Within the first scene, angles of view become an important technique as the camera begins to circle around Diva from the audience’s perspective. In a film where dream-like sequences, spaces, and characters collide against depictions of the city’s stark underworld, this first scene begins to set up the relationships between reality and performance, observer and performer. To Diva, her performances are the only authentic experience of her art; to Jules, they represent a momentary escape from reality.

The effect is transferred to the city after that, translating its theatricality into a condition of the modern city. In a place of density and verticality, the audience watches from their windows as the performance unravels on the stage of the street. Strangers become involved just by looking out of their apartment: through the camera lens, the effect is simultaneously inclusive and alienating, as it is in the city. Jules becomes caught in the twisted plot-lines of the film in the same accidental manner, a victim of a fast-paced and impersonal urban context. Alternately being in control and then vicitimized is another set of relationships that quickly reverses in this viewpoint, as it does for Sapporta. Even Diva becomes a victim during her performance, when she believes she is the only one with control over her own voice. Often, the director’s choice to frame scenes from distant viewpoints makes the audience feel helpless and passive as well, like a passerby in the city witnessing these random events.

The dream-like settings of Jules’ and Gorodish’s apartments defy reality; inside, they are isolated, introverted spaces, and yet this view out the window, to the same gritty city, connects them all. It is the street that tangles strangers together in eachother’s plots. The street is a place of collision and accident.


back to 443/646 fall 2004