IMDB gave a pretty good rundown, so here it is: 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.
Sound confusing? Well, it was, a tiny bit. But aside from being a good thriller, the imagery is so beautiful. It was my favorite part of the movie. And taking full-size screen shots showed the graininess of the film more (which I didn't notice on my lousy television set); delicious.
I watched a short six-minute interview with director Jean-Jacques Beineix afterward; he said that it felt like he made two movies for the price of one. Apparently when it first came out, critics trashed it saying that he was too grandiose (maybe because scenes include things like a young girl rollerskating around a huge loft that is empty except for a big jigsaw puzzle-in-progress and a claw-footed bathtub; and a police /moped chase through the Paris transit system).
It wasn't only the critics, either: In nearly a year, only 100,000 people in Paris went to go see it. After that, though, some switch went off in people's heads and they went nuts for the movie, closing that year-long run with 1 million views. Wow!! Maybe people all of a sudden got into an artsy mood? Who knows, but that's just awesome. I just can't see that happening today, and Beineix said that it definitely couldn't (mostly because economics wouldn't allow for it).
Now that I'm on the topic of then vs. now, I was flabbergasted when I saw that Diva was released in 1981. The movie is timeless, and I wouldn't have suspected that it was older than me at all (except for the female detective's hair).
I highly recommend Diva, and should probably take Paul's movie advice more often. Go see it! Even if it takes you a year.