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Diva (1981)

 -  Thriller  -  23 April 1982 (USA)
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Two tapes, two Parisian mob killers, one corrupt policeman, an opera fan, a teenage thief, and the coolest philosopher ever filmed. All these characters twist their way through an intricate and stylish French language thriller.


(novel), (adaptation), 2 more credits »
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Title: Diva (1981)

Diva (1981) on IMDb 7.3/10

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Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 9 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Cynthia Hawkins (as Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez)
Frédéric Andréi ...
Thuy An Luu ...
Jacques Fabbri ...
Chantal Deruaz ...
Anny Romand ...
Roland Bertin ...
Simon Weinstadt, l'imprésario
Gérard Darmon ...
L' Antillais
Le curé
Jean-Jacques Moreau ...
Patrick Floersheim ...
Raymond Aquilon ...
Eugène Berthier
Gérard Chaillou ...


Young Parisian mail courier is content with his bohemian lifestyle, his circle of friends and listening to opera, particularly one exceptional American diva who refuses to be recorded. So enamored with her, he makes an illegal tape of her at a concert. But when the tape is confused with one implicating a police chief with the mob, he must use all his ingenuity to survive. Particularly notable for its stylish New-Wave production values and extended motorcycle chase scene. Written by Stewart M. Clamen <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

opera | chase | motorcycle | new wave | diva | See more »


Her voice was his calling. See more »




R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





| |

Release Date:

23 April 1982 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Diva e os Gangsters  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$5,555 (USA) (2 November 2007)


$108,372 (USA) (28 March 2008)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The producers were looking for an actress who fit the description of Cynthia Hawkins (the Diva) in the original novel - a beautiful black American woman who sings a flawless operatic soprano, and speaks both English and French fluently. They attended a performance of Carmen to familiarize themselves with opera performers. Wilhelmenia Fernandez was playing the title role the night they attended the opera. See more »


When Nadia is just exiting the metro station and runs into Jules, he is wearing his postman's cap. Later, in the police station when Paula is recounting Nadia's death, the same scene is replayed, except this time Jules is not wearing his cap. See more »


Gorodish: Abyssus abyssum invocat
Alba: What is Abyssus abyssum?
Gorodish: It means the abyss calls the abyss
See more »

Crazy Credits

The music continues for a minute and five seconds after the credits end. See more »


Referenced in Saving Grace (2000) See more »


Ave Maria
Composed by Charles Gounod
Performed by Wilhelmenia Fernandez (as Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez)
© Copyright by Galaxie Musique 1981
Tous droits réservés
See more »

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User Reviews

Hated it the 1st time, liked it the 2nd
1 May 2013 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

The first time I saw "Diva" I hated it so much I walked out with only 10 minutes to go because I didn't want to waste another minute of my life. I saw it again last night, years later, and for the life of me couldn't figure out why I had hated it so much.

"Diva" is a very stylish, very esoteric, very "French" film. So if any of those descriptions scare you, you might end up hating it. On the flip side, beware if you're a hardcore art film fan, because this movie is also a straightforward crime/action flick. So if the phrase "action flick" makes you cringe, you might end up hating it also. In other words, "Diva" straddles the worlds of Godard ("Contempt") and Michael Bay ("The Transformers"). And it has the potential to offend anyone who hates either extreme.

The plot, based on the 1979 novel "Diva" by Daniel Odier, is about a young moped-riding hero who finds himself in possession of two different tapes, one wanted by criminal gangsters and the other wanted by equally vicious corporate suits. The kid himself is mostly clueless, but he is taken under the wing of a mysterious millionaire who gets involved... sort of a Bruce Wayne without the Bat outfit. The "Diva" in the title is an opera singer who is played and, even more impressively, *sung* by the amazing Wilhelmenia Fernandez who in real life is known for her haunting rendition of "La Wally" as sung in this film. She is the one whose voice ends up on a bootleg tape, which is wanted by the corporate suits, who are chasing our hero, who is also running from gangsters, who want a different tape he has.

If the plot sounds tricky, perhaps comical, that's because it is. There are a lot of twists, turns, criss-crosses and surprises to keep you entertained. And while there aren't any outright punchlines and gags, there are some bits of humor and over-the-top characterizations that can only be interpreted as satirical. Example: the grumpy gangster played by the awesome Dominique Pinon whose only lines seem to be: "I hate cops", "I hate Beethoven", "I hate parking decks", and so forth (stick around til the end to find out evidently the 1 thing he likes).

But the real reason to enjoy this film is its artistic, stylish presentation. Directed by Jean-Jacques Beneix, this is perhaps his best example of a film style he practically defined in the 80s, known as "cinéma du look". This style is characterized by non-naturalistic, self-conscious aesthetics, notably intense colors and lighting effects. For example, the millionaire's loft is drenched in vivid blues. The city chase scenes seem to have an eery, artificial red/pink hue. And the Diva's rooms are a high-contrast, Kubrickian white.

Everyone in this movie is cool. Like too-cool-for-school cool. It glorifies classical music fans, gangsters, hipsters, rich folks, poor folks, Americans, Koreans, French, kleptomaniacs, prostitutes, good guys, bad guys, and everyone except that one poor slob who works at the carnival. Everyone is cool and in control.

Add to that the creative camera shots, for example lots of reflections (in the bad guys' sunglasses, or in the hubcap of a car, etc), and there you definitely have "stylish".

The music is artistic, but artistic in a very 80s sort of way (almost pop, a little bit cheezy at times but still cool). And of course Wilhelmenia's singing of the operatic piece from "La Wally" is gorgeous, and the film opens with a generous music-only scene where we can truly enjoy it.

So, upon my 2nd viewing, I recommend this film. I think the only reason why I hated it at first was because I was comparing it to Beneix's 1986 masterpiece "Betty Blue" (37°2 le matin), which digs much deeper into poetry and character development, while sacrificing the intense plot that "Diva" has.

I would compare "Diva" to the more plot-oriented films of Wim Wenders ("Faraway, So Close", "Until the End of the World", "End of Violence") and Ridley Scott of the 80s ("Black Rain", "Someone to Watch Over Me" ...incidentally Wilhelmenia Fernandez was also on the soundtrack of that one, singing "La Wally"). With "Diva"'s exaggerated colors and large sets, I might also compare it to the visual style--visuals only--of Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("City of Lost Children", "Amelie"), Tom Tykwer ("Winter Sleepers", "Run Lola Run") and the talented Japanese filmmaker Hideaki Anno ("Ritual"). There might even be a dash of Kieslowski ("The Double Life of Veronique", "Three Colors"). If you like any of the films or directors I've mentioned, you should give "Diva" a shot. And if you hate it the first time, be sure to try it again a few years later.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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