Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville" -- A Brief Analysis

                                 In 1962, Godard turned his attention to science fiction with his intriguing Italian-language short "Il Nuovo Mondo" (The New World). The 20 minute film was made as part of a anthology, which also featured contributions from Pasolini, Rossellini and Gregoretti. Godard wasn't the only New Wave director to show an interest in science fiction. Chris Marker's "The Pier" (La Jetee) also displays an influence and Truffaut's first color film, "Fahrenheit 451", was an adaptation of a fantasy written by Ray Bradbury. 

                                  For Godard, "Il Nuovo Mondo" pointed the way to a full-length film, "Alphaville", which was said to be shot in two weeks at the end of 1965. This dystopian vision proved a typically Godardian blend of genres -- a hard-boiled sci-fi flick with elements from comic books and pop art. The film won Godard the Golden Bear at the 1965 Berlin Film Festival and remains one of his most popular works. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Godard in "Alphaville" is the creation of the hermetic, high-security city of Alphaville itself. 

Godard's "Il Nuovo Mondo":

                                   Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) is a stone-faced secret agent from the Outland, who arrives at a hotel in Alphaville and checks in under the guise of Ivan Johnson, newspaper reporter. Each of this hotel's rooms comes with its own jukebox, bible and sinisterly seductive bathing assistant. The 'James Bond' like secret agent is in town on a deadly mission: to put an end to the rule of a giant, emotionless computer called Alpha 60 that runs the city of Alphaville, where love is illegal. 

                                   In Alphaville, people who behave illogically are assassinated and no one understands the meaning of "conscience." To succeed, Caution must find and bring back or liquidate the mysterious professor Von Braun, the brains behind the machine. When Caution meets the professor's beautiful daughter, Natacha (Anna Karina), he is determined to save her from this cold world and escort her safely to the Outland. 

                                 In "Alphaville", Godard eschewed building the expensive, expansive sets, typically favored by sci-fi directors, and instead shot the film on the streets of Paris. Some great Parisian locations were handpicked and then injected with a futuristic sheen, as in the short "The New World", thanks to Raoul Coutard's steely black and white cinematography. Dark, impersonal and neon-lit, the city itself becomes a character in the film, more foreboding and perhaps more threatening than even the enigmatic professor himself. 

                              At the center of Alphaville is the iconic Constantine, who Godard likened to a solid block in the film. Constantine appears in every scene here. With his heavy, wrinkled brow, haunted eyes and craggy, pockmarked face, he's quite a sight. Constantine's performance of unerring conviction holds the movie together. He plays Caution without so much as a knowing wink that he's assuming the kind of role that he made his own in a host of 1950s and 1960s detective films. 

                              How does one describe Alphaville to someone who hasn't been there? The swimming pool killings, the hotel's different class of seductresses, the belching bullfrog narration -- this is a unique world. It's perhaps best not to concern yourself with the plot but instead savor the film's incidental delights, such as Caution sparking his cigarette lighter with a bullet from his pistol or bludgeoning an attacker to the sound of a beautiful music. There's some fine costume design too, from the standard-issue hats and macs for the boys to Karina's exquisite outfits and the seductresses' sexy dresses. 

                             "Alphaville" is a bizarre and beguiling slice of science fiction with an arresting visual design. The eerie atmospherics will linger long after the film has finished. 


Alphaville -- IMDb                       


Jiggyasa said...

very...very interesting :)

vinay said...

There are very few Godard movies which I like and this is one of them. Good review. :)

Sahithya Sridhar said...

nice write up!..:)


Arun Prakash said...

He is one among the yesteryear directors whose films I haven't yet explored.
h/t for you!