Saturday, October 22, 2005

Alphaville (1965) dir: Jean-Luc Godard

Alphaville brings us Jean-Luc Godard’s first, and only that I’m aware of, foray into the world of science fiction. He presents to us the dystopic city of Alphaville, set an undefined number of years in the future on another planet, where our main character Lemmy Caution has just arrived from the ambiguous ‘Lands Without’. Posing as a journalist working on a newspaper story he checks into a hotel which offers complementary, unthinking prostitutes. He soon starts to ask questions and it becomes apparent he isn’t quite who he says he is (when are they ever?).

Godard directs with his usual post-modernist chic cool that anyone who’s seen any of his films before will be well-versed in. From the obliged quick cutting to the little photographic nuances (such as the regular shots of neon letters on the screen, and complete frame colour inversions) this film has a smorgasbord of visual niceties. Not being a director to act only on a pictorial level, there is also any number of cultural allusions, such as a duo of scientist types named Heckell and Jeckell, and a professor baring the surname Nosferatu.

However, whilst there is all this contemporary hipness, the film’s main influence is clearly that of which the French New Wavers were often very fond of, namely Film Noir. Stylistically there are the dark tones, dramatic music, and gritty realism. Story has the classic mystery elements recalled from detective thrillers. Characterisation too falls in line, the lead, Caution, is a thoroughly pessimistic, downbeat individual, with the fashion sense of the typical private eye of the 40s. Moreover, Caution would not seem out of place in a Jean-Pierre Melville flick, like The Finger Man, with his remorseless maliciousness, clearly evidence of the senior French director’s influence on that particular epoch of cinema.

This dystopia shows an explicit and continual transference from a knowledge culture to that of a mechanised technocratic society where logic and reason rule. It’d be fair to assume that this is a stark message of caution (Lemmy Caution?) from Godard about our already technologically advanced existence, and its dehumanising effects; and furthermore its role in governance (a snapshot of a totalitarian state). Of course sci-fi with a political/societal message isn’t anything radically new (even then), whether it was Hollywood 50s B-movies and their commentary on the nuclear age, or similar authoritarian envisagings.

This film predates Ridley Scott’s own games with bleak futurist visions, thematically and cinematographically, with Blade Runner and, to a lesser extent, Alien. Also noticeable influences upon Sir Lucas de Star Wars THX1138-era, evident here from the white, high-tech corridors, to the forbidden, reciprocal love plot.

Beyond all that, with its general philosophising on existence and other issues, and its absorbing story arch, this film is great. Recommended for all those open-minded enough to look past the menacing presence of Hollywood; this, along with Tarkovsky’s Stalker, is perhaps my favourite example of pure science fiction in film, a flick with depth and uniqueness.


Blogger midnitcafe said...

Did you get the ok to start posting to blogcritics yet? This is some grand stuff being posted right here.

Not yet seen alphaville. Covered some other Godard territory, but never made it to this one. I guess I'llhave to now.

4:38 am  

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