jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
As much as Godard’s post-60’s work is an endlessly fascinating and daunting journey into the mind of an individual reconciling with so many things, ranging from the tragedies of the world and the criticisms of those who partake or choose silence over a voice to the evolution of cinema as it declines towards nothingness, I find that returning to something during the supposed “classic” era of Godard proves to be a more entertaining experience. Godard’s 60’s output is a filmmaker with so little skin in the game as he tries to reinvent a wheel that’s been moving for decades. This era proves entertaining because it’s a filmmaker playing around with images and edits and sound to create works; Alphaville is one of Godard’s least conventional of the era – and even one of his least conventional works ever – but there is such a clear voice unfolding, a clear artist forming into the filmmaker who’d come to be recognized (and eventually remembered) as the greatest filmmaker to emerge from the second half of the 20th Century.
For Godard, it’s easy to point out that in this period of his films, his influences stem from the classic Noir that the United States would create. Alphaville is Godard’s homage to the classic detective pictures of the 40’s and 50’s while placing our detective, a secret agent in this film, in the trappings of a science fiction film. Lemmy Caution is sent to destroy Alphaville and Alpha 60: Alphaville being a city in France and Alpha 60 being the machine that controls those trapped in Alphaville. In Alphaville, feelings are outlawed and independent thought is seen as a death sentence. Alphaville portrays several executions of those who disobey Alpha 60: a man declaring that love is the answer, another stating that thinking independently isn’t a horrible thing. Both are gunned down and drowned in a pool as hundreds of people clap at their death. The clap is definite: the same noise, over and over, as it rings throughout the space. Caution can only watch and clap and take pictures: if he makes any indication that he’s not following the rules of Alphaville, he may find himself floating in that pool.
Godard views Noir with two different viewpoints: as a genre that he admires and loves and a genre that has a sophistication that is often ignored by those consuming them. The film this most reminds me of is Breathless, Godard’s debut feature. Both films operate as one belief of the genre Godard loves and adores. Breathless is mostly oozing with the passion and energy of someone who loves cinema and wants to create a film that replicates that love, all the while creating one of the great works of pop culture; Alphaville, on the other hand, is a work that elevates the genre through a proper handling of political themes (the concept of control by a force that remains unquestioned and unchallenged) and tone – the possibilities of science fiction and the landscape of Noir meet in a unique way. Godard portrays the future as a decaying landscape of inopportunity but the actual world is contemporary: the critique that Alphaville alludes to is that while mind-control is something we associate with the future, it happens in the now, in moments that we rarely think twice about. Noir, as a genre, brings to light the hidden problems that lingers in the shadows – at times, untouched and unnoticed.
Godard and Alphaville are both often criticized as lacking emotion. For Godard, I merely laugh at people who think his work is emotionless, but I think it’s quite baffling that people criticize a film that embraces the coldness of humanity, intentionally, in order to emphasize the importance of emotions. Caution whispers of love and feeling to Karina’s Natascha who has only known alienation. The moment where Lemmy pulls her out of Alphaville, as the entire population begins to short circuit and lose control, is perhaps one of the most romantic moments in Godard’s film, who cuts to the two of them in the car where she finally learns how to say “Je vous aime" just before the credits roll. Godard is a difficult filmmaker, unquestionably, but his work, whether embracing or condemning humanity and their actions, is always filled with some sort of feeling. In the case of Alphaville, love operates as the final driving force to end Alpha 60 and Alphaville. To understand love and independence is what makes living so wonderful, to have people control and limit it contradicts the importance of being human. Karina’s face when she realizes this is one of the most iconic images in a Godard film: the life returns to her eyes, the smile that cracks on her face – “Je vous aime” indeed.