Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day 141 - Alphaville

Alphaville (1965) directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Film noir meets science fiction meets French New Wave meets 1984. In the near future there exists a dystopian world known as Alphaville where humans have been been reduced to mindless drones. It is a technocratic dictatorship run by a central computer called Alpha 60 (which predates HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey). It rules with a cold logic that forbids certain words like conscience, tenderness, poetry, and love. It does its best to suppress human emotion and executes people for behaving illogically, such as crying when your wife dies. It is a scary vision of the future to say the least.

Lemmy Caution is a secret agent posing as a journalist sent to Alphaville to investigate this society. He is startled to find that people don't know what love means and that their Bible is actually just an ever changing dictionary that keeps on taking out dangerous words. Everyone greets him with the same generic response: "I'm fine, thanks. Don't mention it." He meets and falls in love with the daughter of the professor that created Alpha 60. Natasha (Anna Karina, Godard's then wife and star of Vivre Sa Vie) senses something change in her in his presence, but people in this world have forgotten what these feelings mean. Alpha 60 determines that Lemmy is a troublemaker and must be executed. This judgement is not harsh, it is fair, it is logical. Alphaville is preparing to go to war with the other galaxies, to eliminate these lesser emotional beings. Lemmy decides Alpha 60 must go.

The very first thing I noticed in Alphaville was its powerful and ominous musical score. It fits perfectly with this Orwellian future Godard tries to paint. The world feels similar to that of Blade Runner; it is set in a dark and gritty future though many of the set pieces are contemporary. In fact, there is nothing in Alphaville's world that wasn't available to Godard at the time; everything was shot in location in Paris. The sleek modern interiors were shot at then-brand new buildings with a contemporary design. Everything looks familiar but feels foreign.

As is typical with Godard films, there is a lot of intellectual discourse going on that feels more like a lecture than a film, but it is a style that I'm sort of coming around to. I think it all works great within the film. The philosophical musings of Lemmy and Alpha 60 seem to fit right in with this strange and distant world, if not enhancing it. There are also typical Godard touches that show off his creativity with the camera including numerous long tracking shots and several scenes where the colors are inverted. (I assume this is done by playing the negatives.) Of course there are weird artsy things going on as well.

I really liked the world that Godard presents in Alphaville; it is wonderfully dreadful. Once you sift through some of the weird stuff that goes on, the story concentrates itself into a gripping thriller as we follow Lemmy's mission to destroy Alpha 60 and rescue Natasha. And what is it that Natasha remembers that her people have forgotten? She struggles to form the words together, but comes to her as a revelation. I love you.

Grade: B

No comments:

Post a Comment