Alphaville is a classic dystopia, its minions brainwashed, dehumanised and branded; photographs of its leader on every available wall; the surveilling computer present in every room. dissidents are tortured or murdered in elaborate rituals (e.g. diving-board firing-squads in swimming pools before a gallery of socialites). Double-talk couched in the complexities of dialectic numb the brain; dictionaries are censored daily.
Much of the fun in Godard films of this period lies in their playfulness with familiar cinematic genres; and the trappings of the gangster and spy genres, the detective story and sci-fi adventure (brawls, shoot-outs, car-chases, interrogations, (literal) femmes fatales etc.) are made ridiculous by their slapstick treatment, comic exagerration and over-emphatic music. 'Alphaville' may be a pulp adventure, but the world Lemmy must negotiate is not one of genre, but of ideas, about reality, history, politics, freedom, love, poetry, dreams, the mind, logic, conformity, escape, all reverberating in an environment based on One Big Idea.
'Alphaville', like Chris Marker's similar 'La Jetee', is less a futuristic satire than a reflection of contemporary France (its dark and dense mise-en-scene like a negative photograph of the familiar city; with its extraordinary modern architecture reconfigured as a giant prison), with memories of the recent Nazi Occupation. But, as its name suggests, Alphaville is also the first (cinematic) city of post-modernity, where meaning and authority is decentred, where language ceases to have any shared value, where time ceases to exist, the past and future are abolished, and the mindless live in an eternal present, unable to learn from mistakes or hope for improvement, unable to acknowledge the value of culture. Lemmy seems to be set up as a very 'human' interloper, a repository of 'our' feelings and values in a culture that would seek to suppress them. But Godard called him a Martian', and he is a stranger to Alphaville, which, after all, is our world: he is a figure from pulp fiction , a risible set of signifiers who can only offer Natasha a choice between who gives her orders.
Most dystopias, like '1984' and 'Blade Runner', ultimately fail, because they are as cold and inhuman as the worlds they portray. 'Alphaville', especially in its visionary climactic half hour, shares more with Nabokov's novel 'Bend Sinister' - positing whimsy, idiosyncrasy, gags, Surrealism (Eluard, Bellmer), pop art, the absurd, the unexpected, the daft, the poetic, the aesthetic, the cinematic (especially Melville's 'Deux Hommes Dans Manhattan'), Anna Karina's gorgeous coats against the Brave New World.
But we shouldn't get too comfortable in this ''us vs. them', anti-totalitarian model: Professor Von Braun, with dark, impenetrable shades permenantly welded, is the clean-cut image of the director; he too forces Anna Karina (his daughter, Godard's wife) to perform for strangers and suppress her personality; he, like Godard, is the creator of Alphaville.
This film which is one of several involving the character Lemmy Caution remains popular to this day as one of... Read more