Sunday, March 25, 2007


Diva [1979]
Written by Delacorta [Daniel Odier]
Translated by Lowell Bair

Diva [1981]
Written by Jean-Jacques Beineix and Jean Van Hamme
Directed by Jean-Jacques Beneix

"I don't like fidelity. A screenplay has to be creative even if it's based on a novel. If it tries to be the same thing, it doesn't succeed. I ask the filmmaker to be completely free and not to repeat the book. I want to enjoy creativity, not repetition." - Daniel Odier

So then, by decree of the author, the film Diva cannot be the same as the book. The unwritten assumption of the blog so far has been that a successful adaptation requires being a faithful adaptation. The classic argument against such a position is that, as both book and film are essentially equal, it makes having two editions redundant. Ironically, I had never felt that particular sense of bored déjà vu until I popped Diva into my DVD player.

Of all the texts encountered so far, Diva has been the most cinematically written. The pacing is perfect, with an assured balance between character development and exciting action sequence. The moped chase through Paris has to be one of the most well-written set pieces I have ever come across. Due to its position roughly halfway into the book, we know that Jules will survive, but the whole thing is so gripping that we must read on. For some reason, I couldn't maintain that oh so precious disbelief during the movie's chase. By all technical and aesthetic standards it was just as good, but a terrible "been there, done that" vibe seemed to dampen my enthusiasm.

Would a literal filming have been better? Should Alba have been 13 and not Vietnamese? Would the frisson be increased by making Saporta's role more transparent from the get go? Had the damn thing been too hyped up by all and sundry, making the viewing a textbook case of expectations raised too high? Did I just want to plough through the DVD so I could return it to the library and go back to my reading? I honestly don't know. But my gut feeling is that this particular experiment has been a bit of a bust. I'm sorry, but I'm just too lukewarm about the whole thing to really break into any sort of heady analysis. Let's just go the verdict and pray for better results with the next comparison.

Neither film nor book are classics by any stretch of the imagination, but each are diverting enough in their own right. Ultimately, having one negates the need to have the other. I hate to admit this, but you can probably skip the book; it's had less of a cultural effect in America than the film. And if you really need to be able to discuss Diva at a cocktail party or to impress a date, the assumption will be that you're talking about the movie. Should you need the book, just fall back on the introductory quote and you'll be OK.

We'll be seeing more of Jean-Jacques Beneix in future posts. Let's hope I'll have more to say when we get there....

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