Anny Romand and Jean-Jacques Moreau in “Diva”, 1981. Les Films Galaxie, Greenwich Film Productions, France 2
We go to different films for different reasons, Roger Ebert once said. And, of course, we love each film for different reasons. Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva (released 40 years ago this March) is the kind of film where style overrides content, a striking triumph of an electrifying, dark aesthetic that draws more from pop culture than from the cinema itself. The images guide you rather than the plot. And I like that. It’s a realistic, graphic and underground vision that creates a spectacular universe where detached characters move around industrial wastelands or indoor locations and the Paris Métro to symbolise an alternative, underground society, characters who have trouble in entering the real world and who take pleasure in the illusion of their own story. Beineix, who was at his filmmaking debut with Diva and who in an interview for Télérama in 2013 said that his raw material is more about sound than anything else, is interested in telling his story visually, vibrantly and dynamically, independent of any kind of form. It transports you.
Jules (Frédéric Andrés) is a young postman who has a passion for an opera singer, Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins-Fernandez) who categorically refuses to make records. During a concert in Paris, he manages to make a bootleg tape of her performance, but only with the intention of keeping it to himself. But then it gets mistaken for a tape containing vital evidence about a human trafficking investigation and it prompts Jules’ being chased all around Paris by those who will do anything to retrieve it, but also by two Taiwanese gangsters from the pirate music mafia who obviously want the tape for what it is. But the most eccentric character is Gorodish (Richard Bohringer), someone who has retreated from the public and lives isolated (his only companion being a Vietnamese, Alba, played by Thuy An Lulu), thus reflecting the essential attitude of 1980s France and the social misfits who had turned their back on ideological struggle and accepted the fact that the world struggles in a grey zone rather than exists in black or white.
Anny Romand and Patrick Floersheim in “Diva”, 1981. Les Films Galaxie, Greenwich Film Productions, France 2
This universe is intersecting only tangentially with the real city of Paris, and when that happens, it’s like a window into reality and, with the risk of sounding counterintuitive to the film’s aesthetic and vision, I love those parts. It’s that street-wise quality that brings me to a particular clothing in the film. And if it is supposed to be ironic (the cynical view on the police is a recurring element in the cinéma du look movement), then I appreciate it even more. It’s the look of Paula, a detective played by Anny Romand. Paula appears in about three scenes and she is wearing the same outfit: a roller neck and a down-the-knee straight skirt, both in a shade of grey-light blue and a sort of an oversized windbreaker, in light green (such beautiful colour blocking, too, grey-light blue and green). In her first scene, Paula is sitting at a street-side café with her detective partner and, dressed like that, with her grey cross-body bag tossed on the table next to her coffee, she just seems so of the Paris street scene. Real. And that whole look and setting of Anny reminded me of Agnès B. (not only that, but even Jules’ living arrangement in that abandoned industrial place reminded me of the Agnès B. 1984 summer collection campaign shot in the André-Citroën Park in Paris).
“In the 1980s, Agnès’s personal style subtly evolved into that of women on the street who did not want to look like the women in Blade Runner or Mad Max (popular movies of the time) or in magazines or on runways,” writes in the book Agnès B.: styliste. It’s this realistic contrast of Anny’s look to the whole fantasy-like aesthetic of the film, and of other costumes in the film as a matter of fact (Alba’s neon clothes, for example), that I find very interesting. In fact, it looks modern. Because it also happens to be in contrast (and so are her young partner’s blue jeans, plain t-shirt and leather jacket) with the shabby and outdated suits of her boss, the chief of the police (here may be the irony in fact).
Agnès has always made friends on the street. And she loves movies. Movie posters always hung alongside urban styles in her boutiques. A designer who loves movies is not interested in the fleeting fashion, she is interested in making clothes that go beyond trends and the ephemerality. She is interested in people, people for whom clothes are part of their personality. Agnès has never followed the norm, going against the stream, never radical but always seeing forward, relaxing the men’s rigidness and breathing androgyny into the women’s line. Real work uniforms were one of her inspirations. But she made them interesting, she took them out of the context and moved them into a new playground. And I think that relates here. Anny’s look is kind of a uniform, too, but it’s cool, because it is like it still has a primary function, but a new way of wearing it. It’s freeing and practical, and most of all, modern and very individual. I will take Agnès B.’s guidance and not apply too many words “to what is essentially a subtle, almost indefinable quality”.
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