Alphaville

Alphaville ★★★½

"People have become slaves to probability."

Jean-Luc Godard's ninth feature Alphaville is a decidedly mixed bag, as aesthetically engaging as it is thematically dull. Set in a dystopian future that is easily discernible as present-day Paris, the film revolves around the escapades of FBI agent Lemmy Caution played by the American Eddie Constantine in a sportively parodic reprise of a serial role for which he was popular among French audiences (Constantine's affability is one of Alphaville's unique pleasures—notwithstanding some of the misogynistic dialogue he is forced to speak just compare his inviting demeanor to the louts that customarily stand in for Godard).

Caution is immediately a figure of interest in Alphaville where his appreciation of poetry and capacity for love put him at odds with a lawfully enforced state of dispassion. Unable to save the fellow agent he was tracking, Caution resolves to apprehend Alphaville's creator (the tastefully named Professor von Braun) and destroy Alpha 60, the despotic computer intent on replacing all human emotion with unfeeling logic. His objectives are complicated when he falls in love with the professor's prepossessing yet passionless daughter Natacha (you guessed it, Godard's ex-wife Anna Karina). Caution rather painlessly manages his official duties, but mansplaining the value of love and art to a highly conditioned female almost gets the better of him. This feels like Godard bitterly processing his recent divorce on-screen and it's more than a little tiresome.

On the other hand, the film looks great. Shot with extremely low-light and as often as possible at night, the high-contrast black-and-white imagery is pleasingly stark, though the process infuriated DP Raoul Coutard (who claimed that thousands of feet of film were so dark as to be rendered unusable). Tensions ran high on the shoot even by Godard's volatile standards, leading Coutard to be atypically voluble, "He'd like to swallow the film and process it out his ass—that way he wouldn't need anyone." The lively score by Paul Misraki is wistfully evocative of noir classics. These aesthetic palliatives in concert with first-rate performances from Constantine and Karina make for a mostly satisfactory counterweight to Godard's tedious generalizations.

Some stray notes:
-SILENCE LOGIC SAFETY PRUDENCE
-I'M JUST CHECKING THERE'S A BIBLE
-I CAME 6,000 MILES TO GIVE IT TO YOU
-THE CHINESE ARE MASTERS OF DISSUASION
-IT'S MY SORDID LITTLE SECRET
-THE VOICE OF A PRETTY SPHINX
-A DIET OF MECHANICS AND PROPAGANDA
-NOW I KNOW YOU'LL KEEP YOUR WORD
-YOU HAVE TO GET THERE BY YOURSELF TO BE SAVED

In my Godard ranked list.

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