Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Year: 1965
Country: France
Running time: 98 mins

Production co: Chaumaine/Filmstudio
Producer: André Michelin
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard
Photography: Raoul Coutard
Editor: Agnès Guillemot
Production designer: Pierre Guffroy
Sound: René Levert
Music: Paul Misraki
In French with English subtitles

Lemmy Caution: Eddie Constantine
Natasha von Braun: Anna Karina
Henri Dickson: Akim Tamiroff
Professor von Braun: Howard Vernon
Engineer: Laszlo Szabo
Professor Eckel: Jean-André Fieschi
Professor Jeckel: Jean-Louis Comolli

Print by kind permission of the Bureau du Film, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris
In Alphaville, Godard establishes a techno-fascistic city in which poetry and love and conscience are contraband, therefore mortally dangerous. His stunning dream/nightmare world is created with mysterious, dread-filled, and hauntingly beautiful images. Black shadows are pools of ambiguity, glass surfaces reflect fear. But Alphaville, the ‘capital of pain’, is Paris, underlit. The plot is a brilliant mixture of comic strip, film noir, and science fiction, as agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) is sent on an intergalactic mission to dispose of the diabolical scientist von Braun, whose mechanical brainchild Alpha 60 tortures the populace with logic. A wonderful moment in this surprisingly moving film finds the poker-faced, monosyllabic Caution trying to communicate the meaning of the word ‘love’ to the robotized Natasha (Anna Karina) who must relearn language as a first step toward her individuality. — Pacific Film Archive

Alphaville is science fiction without special effects. Godard couldn’t afford them in 1965 or ever, but he probably wouldn’t have wanted them even if he’d had unlimited financing. His whole theme, imagination versus logic, is consistent with his deployment of Paris as it was in the ’60s – or at least, those portions of Paris which struck Godard as architectural nightmares of impersonality. Sub-Nabokovian jokes on brand names abound. There is much talk of societies in other galaxies, but their only manifestation is the Ford Galaxy that Eddie Constantine’s Lemmy Caution (a low-rent French version of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe) moves about in. Most of Alphaville is nocturnal or claustrophobically indoors. Yet there is an exhilarating release in many of the images and camera movements because of Godard’s uncanny ability to evoke privileged moments from many movies of the past.

Alphaville was never meant to shock, depress, or disgust, and thus it seems as decorous and decent now as it did in 1965. And it is the work of one man, one recognizable man, not the work of a cynical, calculating committee. Indeed, the computer-controlled villains in Alphaville bear more than a passing resemblance to the bottom-line driven villains in the motion picture industry. To understand and appreciate Alphaville is to understand Godard, and vice versa. — Andrew Sarris, Liner Notes Criterion DVD