Sunday, June 13, 2010

Alphaville, Une étrange Aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville, a Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) (1965)

Despite my underwhelming introduction to Godard last semester, I'm definitely still willing to explore the auteur's oeuvre. Alphaville seemed like the most logical second outing, since it's included on the Sci-Fi list and sounded pretty awesome. Simultaneously referencing, updating, and parodying "Lemmy Caution" secret agent films, it stars Eddie Constantine as the future version of Lemmy sent to infiltrate the eponymous city, a computer-run metropolis that's outlawed emotions, imagination, and questioning. He poses as a journalist while searching for a missing operative (Akim Tamiroff) and the scientist (Howard Vernon) who invented Alpha 60, the computer system that monitors and rules over the city. He is aided by the scientist's daughter, Natacha (Anna Karina), and as he awakens her long-muted feelings the two strive to eliminate Alpha 60.

The themes present in Alphaville are nothing new to me, reminiscent of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Brazil, Equilibrium, and so many other preceding and subsequent sci-fi dystopian works, but they're handled in what I presume to be a rather Godardian/French New-Wave manner (then again I'm certainly no expert on the man or movement). The futuristic setting is sparse and unremarkable, incorporating contemporary locations and technology, and the complex premise is expanded in an ambiguous, scattershot approach. The characters don't seem to have any clear motivations, and no one was particularly developed. The romantic relationship between Lemmy and Natacha has no basis in anything believable or realistic, so I couldn't particularly care about it. Then again, the same thing happened with Breathless, so maybe this is a quality I should get used to.

While the exaggerated ambiguity and shapeless characters were frustrating, overall I still enjoyed Alphaville. It's beautifully shot in crisp black and white, with imposing shots that make 1960's Paris seem futuristic and cool whirring mechanisms for the Alpha computer system, all heightening its film-noir feel. The story is decent, working several interesting angles into the premise and achieving certain emotional depth in some scenes. I liked the world-weary Constantine as Lemmy Caution, who seemed so out of place in this fast-paced, bleak world. His familiarity and comfort with the character serves him well in this re-imagining. Anna Karina is memorably gorgeous, and for the most part that's her mamainjor role, but she gets in some affecting moments.

The main impression I have of this film is how staged it felt. The actors move around in an overly-deliberate fashion, and often speak without real meaning behind their words. While for the emotionless setting this is somewhat appropriate, it also keeps the audience at a distance and therefore inhibited my full investment in the story or characters. It's a bold stylistic choice that I've seen pay off in some other films (most notably those of Hal Hartley, whose works are self-consciously choreographed), but doesn't quite work in Alphaville. It's a well-filmed, intelligent science-fiction tale, but it lacks the warmth necessary to fully involve me in its story. And in a movie about overcoming the barriers of logic and cold-heartedness, that makes a big difference.



  1. Im definetly watching Alphaville now. I love films with a subversive angle, I dont know why I missed this one. I did a blog post a couple of months ago on subversive cinema, and after having read your review, I feel bad for having left it out.

    What all this means is that I will also have to watch that re-make. Question, if you have seen the remake, did the remake retain its subversiveness? Thanks for the heads up on this one, I had forgotten I needed to see it!

  2. Connoisseur: Cool, I hope you like it! And to be honest, I didn't even know there was a remake so I can't tell you anything about that. Looking it up on imdb (this is "Megaville" we're talking about?) it sounds very different from the original and has a very low rating, so it's probably ok to skip it.

  3. Yeah, thats the one, the one with Billy Zane, Id never seen it, or heard much of it either, maybe its not even worth a watch, but who knows. Thanks for the heads up on Alphaville anyways Alex!