Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution</strong> (1965)

(On DVD, August 2010) For a moment, I nearly hated this film.  Keep in mind that it’s a pure product of the French new Wave, which set out to challenge viewers’ expectations about the nature of films.  Here, writer/director Jean-Luc Godard takes the usual SF/thriller formula (ie; a secret agent sent to a foreign city to rescue/kill a scientist) and subverts every single facet of it.  Shot in black-and-white, the film makes references to SF plot points but blandly takes place in undisguised Paris, featuring sixties technology and clothing.  The pacing is glacial, the dialogues don’t quite make sense, the fight sequences are handled in a curiously lackadaisical fashion: clearly, it dares viewers to question themselves about what they’re expecting of a film –a process that remains as effective today than in 1965.  It quickly becomes obvious that Alphaville is as much a satire of lazy SF movies than an attempt to say something in a new way.  It’s not always enjoyable: I may have thrown my hands up in exasperation twenty minutes into the film, but the wonder of such experiments is that there’s always a reason to keep watching… just to see what else is in store.  Amazingly, Alphaville eventually clicks, not just as a screw-you to complacent audiences, but also as a modest piece of thematically deep SF filmmaking: Random flashes of equations, inverted nodding gestures ( “No” meaning “Yes” and vice-versa), disconnected bits of dialogue and heavy-handed dystopian clichés all pile up and fuse into a statement about humanity in the face of technological authoritarianism that works in part because it’s not presented like a genre film.  Other small pleasures abound, from some unusual camera work to Eddie Constantine’s wonderfully deadpan performance as the sort-of hero of the film, to a few eerie sequences that show how good SF doesn’t need special effects.  But Alphaville’s foremost quality is the very thing that makes it so unapproachable at times: The sense that a gifted filmmaker took a look at a genre and set out to mock it, while still using its techniques to examine his own artistic preoccupations.

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