French New Wave Week Day 2: Jean-luc Godard’s Alphaville

Today I watched Jean-luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965)


Lemmy Caution is a typical hard boiled film noir style antihero but the setting he finds himself in in this tale is not so typical.  The titular Alphaville is a technocratic dystopia under the control of an evil computer named Alpha 60 and Mr. Caution finds himself sent undercover to investigate this fascist state.  While set in a ostensibly futuristic setting, the film is not shot on elaborate sets but in contemporary buildings, which has the interesting effect of making the film feel like a collaboration between 50’s noir Americana and 70’s architecture and style.

This film presents itself as that eternal struggle of human kind against it’s own creation and unfortunately this is where this film began to lose me.  The conflict here is too simplistic; the film presents two sides, the flawed, emotional and illogical human, and the perfect, emotionless work of engineers without imaginations and their omnipotent yet soulless machines.  The film is completely in support of the human side of the argument but never connects it to the machines, there is a distinct line between biological humanity and technology.  I find this view highly objectionable, if technology is so dehumanizing why are feminism and other movements based on compassion for the oppressed and for minorities more mainstream in our era of technology than ever before?  Speaking of feminism there is a really brutal yet subtle sexist moment in this film when it is explained to Lemmy that 50 men are executed for every one woman because of an inability to fit into the emotionless technocracy, implying that women are wildly more compliant than men.

Apart from my moral objections, this is a very well made movie and lays a lot of groundwork for many dystopian and cyberpunk films to come (though the latter genre is much more aware of the nonexistence of a line between us and our creations.)  The film is filled with beautiful and impressively long tracking shots through some beautiful ‘modern’ French architecture which really accentuates the film.  Eddie Constantine captures the kitsch of the American detective archetype but lacks the humanity of some of the true master performers of that genre, which is ironic because he is supposed to be a celebration of humanities flaws.  Legendary actress Anna Karina is the real star here as she has to play out the self discovery of one who has been oppressed by this society and is only now understanding her own individuality.

Despite it’s legendary status, I find myself disappointed with this film’s simplistically primitive preferences.  It is so easy for us to think about an old product of technology like clothing as a defining element of our person, but not new technology.  And since I disagree with the philosophy of this film, I find it very difficult to sit through as my mind immediately comes up with counter arguments for every point the film makes.  It is frustratingly one sided, yet beautiful in it’s technical execution, it is obvious Godard knows how to shoot a movie but he doesn’t seem to understand modernity in any way.  3/5


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