Starring: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Running Time: 99 mins
Alphaville (Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution) is a French film about a man posing as a journalist who arrives in the futuristic city of Alphaville, on a mission to find a missing person and save the people of the city from the tyrannical rule of technology.
This is the sort of film that has absolutely everything. Fantastic sci-fi, unnerving and dark drama, ingenious comedy and a uniquely bizarre atmosphere that makes for an incredibly entertaining and memorable watch, and it might just Godard’s finest film.
There’s a lot to talk about with Alphaville, and first off, I want to talk about the sci-fi element of the film. Taking his stories galaxies away from the normal setting, Godard does a brilliant job at grounding this film in an impressively convincing and intriguing sci-fi world. It seems at first that he’s just messing around with all the ridiculous tropes of an overly complex sci-fi universe, and that makes for an entertaining opening to the film, but the way in which the film develops into something so much more is what’s most impressive.
And that’s where this film really worked for me. On the one hand, it’s absolutely hilarious. The weird, often inexplicable happenings of the Alphaville world are hugely funny, whilst the dark humour and satire of both the sci-fi genre and contemporary society make for some brilliant laughs.
On the other hand, there’s an incredibly dark and serious tone to Alphaville that a lot of Godard movies don’t have. Vivre Sa Vie‘s gritty nature is the closest that I’ve seen to it, but there’s something about the dystopian society depicted in Alphaville that’s genuinely disturbing, and incredibly unnerving. So, when a film manages to mix both laugh-out-loud comedy and genuinely affecting drama, you know it’s something special.
Of course, as I look at the more entertaining and exciting elements of the movie, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s a pretty blatant attack on society’s excessive reliance on and faith in technology. Whilst it can be seen as a fascinating insight into a mindset from the mid 60s, it is still a very interesting and relevant central focus that had me gripped. It’s taken to some incredible fictitious lengths to illustrate the point, but it does hold strong at the centre of the film, giving the story even more depth than at first glance.
So, Alphaville is exciting, funny, disturbing, intelligent, dark and incredibly deep all at once. But that’s not the end of Godard’s directing brilliance here, because he also manages to mix two genres of film that you’d see at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
Whilst major portions of the film feel very much like a sci-fi, there’s a lot about Alphaville that has a distinct element of film noir to it. Beyond our main character’s trench coat, the dark and gloomy visuals that cover the screen as an intriguing and unpredictable mystery plays out are powerfully evocative of the genre, yet another way this film manages to transcend all barriers.
And it wouldn’t quite be Godard without some non sequitur interjections. Possibly even more relevant than normal, given the story’s focus on logic, there’s a bunch of the director’s classic random moments that never seem to make any sense, but that’s a style that’s always entertained me, and does so again here, but with even more depth to it than usual.
Finally, let’s talk about the performances. Eddie Constantine is fantastic in the lead role, a likable, Bogart-esque detective that gets us engrossed in his investigation within seconds. Alongside, Anna Karina puts in a performance that mixes the best of her abilities, pulling off the sweet and innocent young woman while simultaneously bringing across an unexpected depth and sense of hurt to her character, something that made her (even if she’s not in the film so much) hugely interesting to watch as well.
Overall, I was absolutely thrilled by Alphaville. A film that seems to be able to do absolutely everything, transcending genre whichever way you look, and still providing a coherent, interesting, unpredictable and massively entertaining watch all the while. It’s easily my favourite from Godard, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.7.