Thursday, September 3, 2009


Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, 1965
Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
September 3, 2009

This altogether bizarre proto sci-fi is notable only, to me anyway, for the way in which Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard manipulate light and photography to turn nighttime Paris into a futuristic netherworld of impersonal glass structures, monotonous computers, and robotic humans devoid of form, function, or personality. Some of them are seductresses (of different classes, of course), some engineers and scientists, while others refuse to be "normal" and are eliminated (in a super strange "ceremony" in a pool) by the system, the computer-voiced power that sounds like a chain-smoking Frenchman without a larynx.

The film is about detective Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) who infiltrates the totalitarian Alphaville, run by an omnipresent computer called Alpha 60, as newspaper man Ivan Johnson to extricate a professor (Howard Vernon). The beginning has some strange bits where Ivan just blasts his way with a gun while in a hotel while the emotionless Alphavillians around him hardly bat an eye, and for a second I thought this might be fun. It was slightly campy, in that way in which Godard pays homage to American action flicks of the 30s (like the scene where Constantine is thrown from back and forth of the frame of a fixed camera, like he is being punched on both sides, is actually pretty funny). The music had Noir elements and bravado, which also had me kinda pumped, but in the end, I really could not take anything positive from the narrative elements of this film.

The biggest problem with this film is that Godard is telling you exactly what you should feel about what he is showing you, instead of letting you interpret the images. It is a fatal flaw, and what you get is preachy and, dare I even say it, pretty inherent. People must know that being human is to feel and love; does it really have to be told in this fashion? Maybe with WWII being only 20 years removed, it resonated with the crowd, but now it seems redundant. In the end, it is a baffling, and often impossible mixture of Godard's politics (I'm really dreading getting past his New Wave films and moving into his political, socialist era) and his radical examination of human interaction in spite of war and technology (the final shot of Anna Karina, in close up, saying “I You Love”, is about as self-reflexive and pretentious as Godard gets, and you know I have already defended him on this), and even though the concept is intriguing, and Coutard's photography is like nothing that came before it, the film ultimately doesn't add up to anything close to comprehension. With Le Petit soldat (1960), probably the worst Godard that I've seen.

Film Still

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