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Friday, December 28, 2007

This Weekend at the Movies

posted by on December 28 at 16:12 PM

Most everything in the print edition this week opened Tuesday, including The Savages (Bradley Steinbacher says it “deftly walks a tightrope between comedy and mush”), The Great Debaters (“The rhythms are so smooth and the beats so momentous that the story never seems remotely real,” I write. “Which is too bad, because Wiley College had some impressive debate teams”), and The Water Horse (Brendan Kiley: “It’s cute (but not nauseatingly so) and pretty, set in rural Scotland with its big peaks, cobblestoned streets, and a costume closet from the golden age of natty togs”). In a separate piece, Andrew Wright reviews Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (“a big ball of trademarked suck”), which also opened earlier.

But a few choice films are opening today. First up: Diva:


dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix
Opening December 28 at SIFF Cinema.

I am told people retain nostalgic feelings for Diva, an insanely pretentious 1981 French film about smitten postmen, roller-skating shoplifters, freight elevators, spooky recording technology, and an electric blue everlasting wave machine. I hate to break it to you, but the only thing that’s still awesome about this movie is a five-second cameo by a cat named Ayatollah. Ayatollah is très chouette.

Jules (Frédéric Andréi) is a postal worker in his early 20s—ah, the fresh-faced French working class—with a raging crush on the African-American opera singer Cynthia Hawkins (played by one Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez—can I get a holy shit?). He bootlegs one of her concerts, chats her up backstage, and then, in a fit of straight-as-a-board covetousness, snatches her silken robes from a rack and hightails it home. Jules also meets a Vietnamese shoplifter who enjoys roller skating and posing naked for artsy photographs. And her boyfriend, who sits soulfully on the floor of his massive Paris loft and works jigsaw puzzles. But then sometimes the boyfriend gets up and lectures on how to butter a baguette.

Meanwhile, there’s some other nonsense about a prostitution ring the chief of police is implicated in. And something about switching secret cassette tapes. None of this part of the plot makes any sense. All you have to know is the bad guys wear aviator sunglasses. Their favorite weapon is the awl. The awl.

Diva is, unfortunately, two hours long, so pretty soon the crushing weight of its ridiculousness begins to suffocate the modern viewer. Do we really have to listen to Wilhelmenia bleat about how anyone with the audacity to record her precious voice might as well go ahead and rape her? It’s 1981, darling. This behavior has no place. The Vietnamese Frenchie is absolutely intolerable. And there are one too many shots of that goofy wave machine. But if you want to kneel at the altar of the coolest cat name ever recorded, Diva is your flick. C’mere, Ayatollah, you fuzzy thing. ANNIE WAGNER

Competing for the cool vote at Northwest Film Forum: Five Easy Pieces.

The question of whether Five Easy Pieces is sexist or about sexism has been troubling movie nerds for thirty years now, and this screening will open the worm can once again. This unresolvable dialectic is one of the many good things this great film trails in its wake. Because yes, frankly, it is sexist (and not pre-feminist, either). Even the title is a sexist double entendre—those pieces aren’t piano music, dude. Jack Nicholson’s Bobby Dupea bounces from one weak woman to another (including Sally Struthers, most acrobatically), tearing them apart in the process, and Bob Rafelson’s camera makes him a hero for it. Only when Bobby meets a substantive woman (who terrifies him) does the movie take pains to register the hero’s maybe-tragic, maybe-just-psych-101 flaw. Bobby’s suffering excuses nothing and explains everything. His victims (Karen Black as the not-as-ditzy-as-she-acts sex kitten waitress, Struthers as the easy mark with the dimple in her chin) are not without dignity; they are, however, without hope, because they can’t help loving the king of all cruel bastards. And that’s why the movie is about sexism even as it pretends it’s not also looking through Karen Black’s see-through nightie. Throw in the chicken salad sandwich scene and you’ve got yourself an imperishable emotional weather report from the heart of the American ’70s. SEAN NELSON

And Grand Illusion is screening Oswald’s Ghost, a documentary about the JFK assassination.

Movie times are available at Get Out. If you’re going to Pacific Place this weekend, bring an extra sweater. I almost froze to death last night watching Charlie Wilson’s War, which is, otherwise, highly recommended.

RSS icon Comments


"[Beineix] has made a film that is about many things, but I think the real subject of DIVA is the director's joy in making it. The movie is filled with so many small character touches, so many perfectly observed intimacies, so many visual inventions-from the sly to the grand-that the thriller plot is just a bonus. In a way, it doesn't really matter what this movie is about; Pauline Kael has compared Beineix to Orson Welles and, as Welles so often did, he has made a movie that is a feast to look at, regardless of its subject."

Posted by rogerebertdotcom | December 28, 2007 4:40 PM

Do you want to eat a feast from 1981? Seriously, dude, get me Ebert on DIVA in the last five years (that piece is from 82) and then we'll talk.

Posted by annie | December 28, 2007 5:03 PM

True: I made a Diva rip-off movie on Super 8. It was called Murder in Moon City Plaza.

Posted by Josh Feit | December 28, 2007 5:11 PM

And yet... Five Easy Pieces was written by a woman (Carole Eastman). She used a male pseudonym. Can a movie written by a woman still be judged as sexist to women? Or is there another word for it?

Posted by Donovan | December 28, 2007 5:23 PM

What is up with Pac Place? Saw Charlie Wilson's War there on Monday and kept my coat on for the entire film. Seems more like Arctic Place.

Posted by gnossos | December 28, 2007 5:53 PM

I haven't seen Diva in a coon's age, but I'll be damned if I don't still rollerblade in my own house because of that scene with the girl on her skates...

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | December 28, 2007 8:35 PM

it's an ice pick, not an awl, and Curé is one of the best bad guys ever ("J'aime pas les parking")

plus it's an unforgettable soundscape. close your eyes for the stupid parts and just listen.

I watched this movie hundreds of times while painstakingly transcribing every line of it (don't ask why) and never got tired of it

Posted by Alan | December 28, 2007 11:05 PM

Q: Quien a volé la robe de la diva?
A: La Wally!

Posted by tomasyalba | December 29, 2007 12:42 AM

Shit. "Qui," not "quien." Spoiled my best joke ever.

Posted by tomasyalba | December 29, 2007 12:55 AM

Fernandez was quite the accomplished opera singer in those days. I saw her sing Tosca for the Oakland Opera in the late 80s and she was outstanding. Lately, nothing, sadly. So "holy shit," she is more than just an odd name.

Posted by calvin | December 29, 2007 9:30 PM

The buzz when I worked in music in NYC was that Miss Wiggins Fernandez had, in the beginning, a lovely, light small voice that she essentially blew out more or less completely in the wake of Diva, which, in combination with a bad habit of taking herself even more seriously than Your Average Soprano, meant a quick end to her career. She did make one nice disk of spirituals, though, in addition to her appearance on the movie soundtrack.

"Qui a volé la robe de la diva?" - best fake movie headline ever, and a great thing to declaim in high dudgeon when slightly tipsy...

Posted by Muscato | December 30, 2007 8:31 AM

I understand you all enjoy being eccentric. And really, thats okay. But when it comes down to representing a paper that thumbs-up porn reviews AND God of War 2, you'd think one of you jackasses would have a good time with another Alien or Predator flick that wasn't Resurrection or didn't star Danny Glover. You obviously saw the wrong movie, Wright... AVP:R took place in Colorado, not Canada. And it wasn't directed by Paul W. Anderson. Thank your lucky stars for that.

Posted by Gabriel | December 31, 2007 3:16 AM

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