Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Strange Adventure of Alphaville

Sometimes I will sit down and watch a movie that is so completely and utterly perplexing that I sit there for the entire running time with glazed over eyes and a dead brain. Such was my experience watching Jean-Luc Godard's weird 1965 science fiction noir tale Alphaville. Perhaps the entire French title is a more apt one - Alphaville, A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution - because a strange adventure is definitely what it is. Well, "adventure" isn't probably the best description considering not much happens.

It's set in a place called Alphaville, which I couldn't quite figure out if it was a planet or a city on a planet that wasn't Earth or a city on Earth or Earth in general. The movie is very odd like that. It revolves around a spy from the "outer countries" (again, maybe planets, maybe cities, maybe Earth) who comes to the city to... do something. It may involve destroying a super computer. A super computer that has the worst narration voice ever committed to celluloid.

The film deals with interesting things such as a societies overrun by computers so much that the computers have outlawed any emotions or feelings that it can't understand (such as Anna Karina's Alphaville native not knowing what the words "love", "why" or "conscience" mean) and people being punished with the death penalty for acts such as crying or hoping, but it might have been nice to deal with such themes in a movie that was, well, interesting and engaging. Then... umm... er... that's about it. I'm not really sure what happens for most of it. Characters seem to be talking about one thing and then instantly start about something completely unrelated. Caution kills some people and then stuff happens and it ends. I think I missed something, but even if I did it's done in such a stiff and pointedly barren method that whatever it was that I missed probably wasn't that interesting anyway.

I am quite positive that it was Godard's intent to make his science fiction a sci-fi without the big and obvious sets that are typical for the genre, but in doing so he seemingly just made a really confusing story set in a city that doesn't look even remotely futuristic. There appears to be more detail put into the poster design (click the image at the top) than there was put into the actual film. Strangely, the one movie that I kept having flashes of while watching Alphaville was Wong Kar-Wai's 2005 film 2046. With Alphaville's recurring musical theme, it's cold methodical nature, it's prostitute servants, neon signs and talk about intergalactic worlds where love is still a powerful force I couldn't help but think that Wong was influenced by Godard.

Still, that doesn't stop Alphaville from being a bore, even if it is thematically intriguing. This is the first Gordard film that I have actually seen, so I was taken back a bit. I hope future trips prove more fruitful. Perhaps even another trip to Alphaville is in order down the line, but for now? C-


Dame James Henry said...

My local library (aka my main source of DVD's for the moment) only has 4 Godard films: Breathless, which I own and love, Band of Outsiders, which I generally liked but not as much as Breathless, Weekend, which should be coming in a couple of days and Alphaville. Reading this review is definitely not making me look forward to that one when I get around to seeing it. I'm no Godard expert or anything, but judging from my experience you should probably see Breathless next to understand Godard's style a little better. It definitely came in handy while watching Band of Outsiders; I probably would have hated it if I didn't know what to expect.

J.D. said...

Band of Outsiders is the only Godard I've seen so far, and I sort of loved it? I think if the Criterion edition's sound was better I wouldn't need to say 'sort of', but as is it's 'sort of'.

I know I should see Breathless anyway, though.