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#192 Diva at the English National Opera

March 9, 2011

A drizzly evening at the Coliseum. Not ideal for taking you into a fantasy world of French crime.

Muhhhhhhh. It was a Monday night for this one, and we were feeling pretty Londoned out after a heavy weekend. We’d failed to get our heads round the nature of this mysterious one-off movie – or was it theatre? – or opera?-  show at the Coliseum, but we’d booked anyway. We hoped we weren’t going to regret it. Helmed by Future Cinema, the same people who make Secret Cinema, we knew it would be something a little special. But tired and jaded as we were, it was going to have to be something really out of the ordinary to jolt us out of Monday zombie mode.

The night began outside the Coliseum, where a light drizzle had begun to fall. Instead of going inside, we were herded around the corner and watched as a bunch of French police types tried to apprehend a criminal who wheeled a moped through the crowd. Lots of cries of ‘merde!’ and ‘ou-est-il?’ from the actors; a few snorts of ‘What now?’ and ‘What’s the point of this bit?’, from the audience, who were somewhat older, posher and grimmer than Secret Cinema’s usual patrons.

Courageously playing through the slight apathy of the crowd, the actors moved us inside (not before an inspector had ‘found’ a few suspicious bags of white powder on various bystanders.) It was clear that Future Cinema hadn’t been able to customise the Coliseum as much as they’d have liked – props were strewn around, but nothing spectacular. A (deliberately) bored-looking asian girl was rollerskating around. The Red Shoes this wasn’t.

An undeniably impressive space to hold a film screening. NEEDS MORE GILT though.

Inside the auditorium, more farcical running about and shouting, until the lights dimmed and we were treated to three beautifully sung arias, sung by a really-real flesh-based singer-lady. Then the screen behind the singer flickered into life, and the 1981 film Diva began.

This unlikely pair are the stars of other thrillers as well, by the Swiss writer Delacorta.

Diva is as French as pain au chocolat and brutal honesty. A new-wave thriller by Jean-Jaques Bieneix, more famous for Betty Blue, it’s about a youth obsessed with an opera star who tumbles into a conspiracy of murder and blackmail. The film took a while to put all its pieces into place – but when it did, it purred along smoothly, intersecting a zen rogue, a couple of mirror-shaded killers, a roller-skating asian teen (ah, right, now we get it!) and several McGuffins in the form of (woah, cool technology) cassette tapes. By the end, the audience was seduced by a very 1981 mix of artsy chic and energetic action set-pieces, drizzled with deadpan humour à la Francaise. And we’d come out of our Monday slump and found we’d enjoyed ourselves immensely. ‘Going to immersive-French-opera-theatre-cinema’ is definitely the new ‘putting your feet up and watching Waterloo Road‘ for Monday nights.

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