99 minutes

Jean-Luc Godard has never been better as when he is deconstructing and subverting classic narrative formulas for his own deviant purposes – and the stunning dystopian noir sci-fi of Alphaville is proof enough. Shot entirely on Paris locations carefully selected for their modern architecture and artfully edited to suggest a disembodied, futuristic city, Alphaville appropriates the narrative codes of B-pictures and the character of private eye Lemmy Caution, created by novelist Peter Cheyney and immortalised by American expat Eddie Constantine in a series of French 1950s potboilers. Then, it sets them loose on a cerebral variation on George Orwell's 1984, set in the computer-controlled, logical city of Alphaville, where secret agent Caution is sent to find out what happened to a long-ago banished scientist.
     Mr. Godard and his regular DP Raoul Coutard's use of neon and high-contrast black and white film gives the film a strong noir sheen, while the total absence of visual effects and reliance on dialogue and assemblage to create the background give it an otherworldly, retro-futuristic effect. But what clenches the film's genius is the prescient, almost prophetic way it posits emotion and love as the antidote to the cold, calculating inhumanity or a rigid, programmed system. In a way, Alphaville replays the central fights of World War II – freedom versus tyranny – and the Cold War – individualism versus statism — under the guise of a tongue-in-cheek and yet deadly serious pulp fiction, evoking Paul Éluard and the Terrytoons at the same time. That unlikely encounter between high and low culture is what has always propelled mr. Godard's finest work – of which, needless to say, Alphaville is one of the high points.

Starring Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff.
     Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard; music by Paul Misraki; director of photography (black & white), Raoul Coutard; production designer (uncredited), Pierre Guffroy; film editor, Agnès Guillemot.
     An André Michelin/Filmstudio presentation/production. (Original French distributor, Athos Films. World sales, Studiocanal.)
     Screened: DVD, Lisbon, June 13th 2011.


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