Alphaville

Alphaville ★★★★

DIRECTOR WEEK #4: Jean-Luc Godard
friday: ALPHAVILLE (1965)

Secret agent Lemmy Caution, played by the dead-pan Eddie Constantine, is sent to Alphaville, a dystopian futuristic city where emotions and creative expression is outlawed. His mission is to assassinate Professor "Nosferatu" von Braun, played by Howard Vernon, the creator of a Big Brother-esque computer called Alpha 60. While there he meets Natacha Von Braun, played by Anna Karina, to whom he teaches the values of love, poetry and emotion.

The full French title is Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) and we are dealing with a strange adventure alright. As usual, Godard tosses every concept of a specific genre genre out the window, this time toying with the well-established genre traits of a classic scifi story.
Every single aspect of the mise-en-scène is downplayed to an absolute minimum. There are just enough elements to convince you that we are in a futuristic environment; for instance the references to Newspeak, the obligatory dictionary in every hotel room to keep track of the words that are banned, and imagery depicting symbols of logical science over expression.
A big theme of the film is time, and how awful it is to be stuck in the irreversible present. Therefore, Alphaville vicariously looks very much like Paris in 1965, and intentionally so. Science-fiction is not about the future after all, it is about the now. And the parallels between the dystopian future and how Godard must have felt about the state of things in 1965 are easily drawn.

In terms of story, this film is nothing new. The depiction of an Orwellian tyranical ruler where emotions are forbidden is something of a cliché in the scifi genre. However, Godard manages to keep it fresh, mainly because of the minimalistic way of visual storytelling and by mixing the scifi story with lots of other elements, like Film Noir, arthouse and action. So much so that the main character Caution feels almost out of place; the trenchcoat wearing and triggerhappy grump seems to have escaped from a pulpy crime novell, or a Dick Tracy comic.

As always, I was pleasantly surprised by Godard's sense of creativity and innovation. It's nice to see him plow his way through a conventional genre story and shaping it into its own unique thing.

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Every day of the week, I will watch a film by a certain critically acclaimed director that I haven't seen before.
You can follow my progress here.

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