Art, intrigue, opera, and murder collide in unexpected ways in "Diva," the 1981 thriller from French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix. The film's lurid plot finds a young Parisian postman named Jules (Frédéric Andréi) running for his life after coming into possession of two audio cassettes -- the first a one-of-a-kind, and highly coveted, bootleg recording of his favorite opera singer; the other containing the testimony of a recently deceased call girl blowing the lid off a drug trafficking and prostitution ring overseen by a squad of corrupt police officers. Suddenly Jules finds himself pursued by crooked cops, murderous thugs, hitmen, and ruthless Taiwanese businessmen, and he's got to keep one step ahead of them all if he wants to stay alive.
With its thrilling set pieces, dreamy art direction, and neon-drenched cinematography, "Diva" took arthouses by storm when it hit the US in the summer of 1982. In addition to being a box office sensation, the film helped to usher in a new wave of French cinema that came to be known as "cinéma du look." Films of the movement -- which included work by directors Luc Besson ("Subway") and Leos Carax ("Boy Meets Girl"), as well as Beineix -- were characterized by their heightened style, striking imagery, and a freewheeling mix of high and pop culture.
Rochester audiences certainly weren't immune to the bold new vision "Diva" offered. When the film opened at the Little Theatre on July 28, 1982 (shortly after the theater was taken over by new owners William Coppard, along with John and Pam Blampied) the public returned in droves for repeat viewings, eventually making "Diva" one of the longest running movies to ever play at the theater. According to records found by Little staff members, the film screened until at least April of 1983.
This week, "Diva" makes a triumphant return to the theater thanks to The Little's "Diva Festiva" event, where attendees will get to enjoy a live opera performance from soprano Kearstin Piper Brown, food, drink, and the centerpiece of the evening: a rare 35mm screening of the film itself. The event serves as a fundraiser for the extensive renovations set to restore The Little Theatre to its former glory, as well as a send-off of sorts for The Little's main theater on East Avenue (Little 1) before it temporarily closes beginning May 29. (The theater is scheduled reopen in October).
When looking for a film to close out this era of the theater, "Diva" seemed a natural fit, and Little PR Coordinator Scott Pukos hopes the screening will bring back fond memories for those who came out to see it during its original run. "It's a big part of this theater's history, and we want to really celebrate that before we start the renovations," Pukos says. "We want to send people off with another good memory of the theater."
Facility Manager Jim Malley was one of those Rochesterians who found themselves captivated by "Diva" during its original run. He recalls seeing the film multiple times during its time at The Little, and felt the film's aesthetic perfectly aligned with the emergence of the young media-savvy, MTV generation. "Being at the age where I was just out of college, it fit perfectly in that whole era for me," he says. "It was a movie that seemed to have everything I liked: music, beautiful art, a cool story that wove into it all, and with a youthful, almost punk rock kind of feel to it."
The event is a great opportunity to revisit the film, but also to see how the mission of The Little has expanded over the years. "It shows what we do differently compared to the eighties," Pukos says. "Now we're having live opera [with the movie], we're having food, beer, and wine. It'll be a little more of a party, and really highlights what we often do here, so it's fitting."
The additions are a natural fit, Malley says, and finding new ways to spotlight the art form is something The Little has always done well. "Even back then, it was a place that just made me feel good. And then what it did inside -- bringing the world and culture to me in a way that you couldn't get anywhere else." He says he's happy to see that continue, and adds: "It's got a great future ahead. It's very exciting, and I'm glad to be a part of it."
The Little Theatre's "Diva Festiva" will be held Thursday, May 24. Doors will open at 6 p.m. with musical performances leading up to the film, which is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets to the event are $30 and include the film, music performances, two drinks (alcoholic or otherwise), free hors d'oeuvres, and popcorn. Tickets are now on sale at thelittle.org, and at the Little Theatre box office.