Wednesday, September 16, 2015


If you think that December 7 is a tough movie to do a review on and do justice to it, consider that tonight on TCM you'll have a chance to catch Alphaville, which will be on overnight at 2:15 AM as part of an evening of the films of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard.

The putative plot involves American detective/secret agent Lemmy Caution (played by Eddie Constantine). His job is to go to the distant city of Alphaville, where the agent Henri Dickson (Akim Tamiroff) has gone missing. There, Lemmy is supposed to find and rescue Dickson, while also hopefully freeing the people of Alphaville from the tyranny of their ruler. Of course, that's going to be a bit difficult because the city is more or less ruled by a supercomputer, the Alpha 60. The computer was invented by Professor Von Braun who wants to eliminate positive emotions like love. Along the way, Lemmy falls in love with Von Braun's daughter Natacha (Anna Karina).

So far, it all sounds like reasonably standard fare that could have been in any of the 1960s spy movies, although more likely in something of the James Bond ilk instead of the movies that ostensibly aimed for more realism. When I say realism, that's where Alphaville starts to cause difficulties for me in trying to come up with a reasonable review. Alphaville the city is supposed to be a futuristic city, but is represented by... the concrete banlieues that ring Paris. It's also amazing how they can get to Alphaville just as easy as driving from central Paris to those banlieues would have been, as opposed to anything like the difficulties in getting between East and West Berlin.

Not that all of this makes Alphaville a bad movie. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it's a very strange movie. I don't think you can say the movie is meant to be taken seriously, at least, not in the sense of being taken seriously as a spy movie. But if it's supposed to be a spoof of spy movies, then it's an extremely deadpan spoof. So I think we have to look for clues in the fact that this is part of the French New Wave and directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Clearly Godard has always had some sort of message he wants to say with his movies, something we learned when he had his falling out with Fran├žois Truffaut over Truffaut's conventional Day For Night. (I thought I blogged about the dispute when I blogged on Day For Night, but the gist of it was that Godard was ticked his formerly good friend was making a film that didn't challenge the bourgeoisie but instead something "conventional".)

Godard, we can guess, is trying to use the banlieues as a symbol for something about the society as it was in the mid-1960s. I tend to side with Truffaut regarding the Day For Night dispute, but I do have to say that Godard did a very good job at making the banlieues look oppressive in Alphaville, which is probably part of the point he was trying to make. It's just that the story in support of the images is odd.

Watch for yourself, though. You may be able to make more sense out of whatever meaning Godard intended than I do. And whatever conclusion you come to, you'll probably enjoy it just for being so weird.

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