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on December 12, 2002
Jean-Luc Godard, the most experimental and influential filmmaker from the French New Wave, made this film in 1965, about an out of control, totalitarian, scientific, logical society. Lemmy Caution, a spy from the outlands, comes to Alphaville, under the name Ivan Johnson to investigate. He discovers a society run by a supercomputer Alpha 65, and populated by brainwashed drones, where love, art, and emotions are against the law. Lemmy gets involved with Alphaville's top scientist's daughter. He helps her discover her true human nature, they fall in love, and together they fight the leaders of Alphaville, and Alpha 65 itself.
The film is fast paced, reminiscent of crime thrillers, and of sci-fi dystopians such as Blade Runner. The film examines human nature, and the redeeming value of love, and spirit, over mind, and material. The film is both very entertaining, and philosophical, that rewards multiple viewing, that offers new insights. I recommend this very much. 5 stars.
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on January 16, 1999
It is a rare thing to see a film that not only shows one what life is, but espouses a concrete vision of what life should be. Even more rare is a film which does this by situating characters in a world where one would not want to live thereby isolating the very essence of what makes on human. Godard's Alfaville not only accomplishes this feet but it creates an artistic embodiment of all that true individuality stands for. More potent than 1984 and just as beautiful as novels such as Atlas Shrugged, Alfaville shows one who is willing to watch and listen the true value and purpose of freedom and the ominous results when that freedom is removed from their lives. The music, cinematography and overall directing could only be done by an individual who's sense of life is majestic and bordering on, if not completely genius. This is not only great science fiction but it is art at its highest ideal, a work that makes me proud to be human.
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on December 15, 2003
As usual with Godard moments stand out. In this film the most absurd sequence involves a diving platform in what looks to be an eastern bloc recreational center and a number of black sweatered and bereted revolutionaries with sub-machine guns standing on the pool deck spraying the divers as they dive. Whats it all mean? Well I suppose you could say its Godards way of commenting on the wests ability to turn even political oppression into mass entertainment.
I like a number of Godard films: Breathless, My Life To Live, Contempt, Pierrot Le Fou, First Name: Carmen, Hail Mary, In Praise of Love --still Alphaville remains kind of a hard one for me to get into. Perhaps because I am not too keen on science fiction. It seems the people who like this film are the ones who like science fiction in general. To me science fiction is full of cliches and so is film noir and so to me it seems Godard is using these genres to address cultural cliches -- and yet he is also making pointed comments on modern culture as he does so. You can always count on a Godard film to be smart and even though its not one of my favorites Alphaville is no exception to that rule.
Anna Karina looks great as always. Unfortunately for Lemmy Caution she is the daughter of Alphaville's overlord. No one really believes the future will look like a parking garage nor that a super-computer will run our lives and that people will become vacant automatons. Only a handful of early twentieth-century authors thought the future was leading us toward Alphaville. In the context of the swinging sixties sci fi just looks campy and noir even campier. Whats going on in Godards head? Hard to say in this film. To me its funny, but a surprising amount of people seem to take this sci fi stuff seriously.
I think the new wave band of outsiders enjoyed genre hopping because it gave them a chance to flex their movie knowledge. Plus genres come loaded with rules which the new wavers can then subvert -- so that is the fun of Alphaville, subversion of genre and in this case its a double dose of subversion because Godards subverting two genres, sci fi and noir. I think its interesting to note that in both of these genres men and women relate in steretypical and fatalistic ways -- and the new wave was about being hyper-conscious of these film conventions. Perhaps what Godard is really saying is that in order to invent life anew we must break free of these conventions. This is of course something his characters often fail to do although in some films they try.
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on January 10, 2002
Godard's best film, in my judgment. Certainly his most cerebral. Manages to be quite affecting and parodistic all at once--not an easy feat, even for a Frenchman. Naturally such a sensibility is alien to the American mindset. Most Americans would hate this. In fact, it may be fair to say that *Alphaville* is the litmus test for whether or not a person can handle French New Wave cinema: if you make it through this one, baby, hey, look up--it only gets easier. It's about a French Mike Hammer-type called Lemmy Caution (an amusing name for English speakers--another of Godard's calculated effects) who drives on up to Planet Alphaville by way of a Ford Galaxy. Suspend your belief, baby. This is sci-fi cinema by way of Elizabethan theatre. His secret mission: either assassinate or kidnap a mad technocrat named Vonbraun (get it?) who has created the evil Alpha 60 supercomputer. Along the way, he runs into "seductresses, third-class", Vonbraun's daughter (Anna Karina in the height of 60's fashion), an old friend and former fellow-agent (Akim Tamiroff, doing a hilarious impression of Orson Welles in *Mr. Arkadin*), various other assassins, bureaucrats, garage-park attendants, and even Alpha 60 itself. What does it all mean? I have a relatively good idea, but I don't kid myself for one second: Godard's having a bit of fun w / us, here. Too much analysis and you'll be climbing the walls, like certain characters late in the film. Just watch and enjoy . . . if you can. The photography by the master Raoul Coutard, incidentally, is even better than usual, and that's saying a lot.
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on October 26, 2002
Godard, famous the world over with the art house, college course, and critic corner, has here, made a piece so absurd and in the extreme which creates a needed desire to view the '65 film. Within the same breath as sci-fi fantasy modern satire overpopulation history imploding upon itself hysterical nonsence overall dehumanization sadness wit born out of suffering lost in a vacuous sucking system of rule where even anarchy has become dull and pointless living non-living automaton where love is only a reflex automation bombardment constant forced labotomy imagery of a so called so named hopeless modernization salvation. Are we to conclude that we only can "learn" from black and white dogma, lines of good/bad, common love/hate? No, yet a certain learning can be gained from the hyperbole, the extreme, and absurdity. Of course, the world has changed faces a dozen times over since '65 and ideals come and go. Some proven beneficent, others perfectly cataclysmic. ... However, one can learn from the darkest periods of this past century alone (and what you learn is really of your own doing and construction). So the movie has classic original overtones and gritty reality met by brutish characters and eerie mechanized beings floating through scenes with at times misplaced soundtrack in foreground interspersed with street/billboard-like signs setting a desired mood and pace. ...
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on January 8, 2002
Imagine someone like David Lynch being hired to make the next James Bond film. That is analogous to what happened with Alphaville. Alphaville is part of a series of movies starring the character Lemmy Caution which was popular in France. But instead of churning out more of the Sam Spade/Humphrey Bogart inspired film noir typical of the series, Godard made something completely unique.
All the same themes of traditional film noir are found in this movie. However instead of having the hero trying to maintain his sense of morality after falling for an amoral woman, the hero in Alphaville instead encounters a whole society which is amoral. And instead of just solving a crime, Lemmy Caution challenges a whole system of thought.
Lemmy drives in his Ford Galaxie to Alphaville, another planet which is ruled by a computer obeyed without question, and which is an interesting blend of the (then) past and the future, although the film also clearly takes place in the late 1950s. His mission is to either capture the scientist who invented the computer and bring him back to the "exterior", or else kill him. Lemmy soon encounters a society that is completely amoral because it follows the dictatorship of logic. Individuality is subsumed by the needs of the community. The word "love" is no longer understood, partly because it is no longer listed in the Bible/Dictionary which is constantly being revised. Nor do the people understand the word "why" because they do not question the logic of the computer which controls every aspect of their lives.
Of course, as is typical with noir, Lemmy falls in love with the scientist's daughter, and his mission becomes secondary to his relationship. However, also as is typical, it is this relationship which helps Lemmy succeed in his mission.
Interspersed with the action are interesting philosophical speeches by the computer. The computer develops an interest in Lemmy because it is confused by him and his alien concepts, resulting in interesting conversations. Eventually Lemmy triumphs over the coldly logical society of Alphaville by introducing eternal concepts like love and happiness which exist beyond cold logic into the system, much like how Sam Spade defeats scheming females through a display of tenderness and his adherence to his own morals. Thus even while Alphaville's portrayal of post-war society is in many ways grimmer and less individual than most film noir, Lemmy's triumph is far more complete than any of Sam Spade's because his victory goes beyond mere personal triumph of his own moral principles by redeeming society.
Filled with great sets, photography and acting, and some wonderful surreal touches, this film is an interesting optimistic alternative to Orwell's 1984, and should be enjoyed by any serious fan of science fiction or film noir, or of just plain great filmmaking.
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on January 14, 2000
On the aspect ratio. I think Steve Rose, below, is absolutely right. I have the widescreen VHS and the Criterion DVD and have run them together and the DVD is obviously giving the full print image. The W/screen tape is only widescreen because it crops the top and the bottom of the image, giving a very cramped composition to every shot. The DVD has a precision of framing that is always spot-on (as one would expect from Raoul Coutard). Not only that but the VHS tape is washed out; it lacks strong blacks, and has next to no contrast - an important feature in a film that is an hommage to American film noir. The DVD is, all up, a model of care and committment to a wonderful movie. Now we can see it as Godard intended. (In particular, we can again see clearly that the synchronised swimmers are stabbing the executed men to death - something that is not obvious on the VHS tape.) This DVD is still listed as widescreen long after they have had it pointed out to them that it is not! As are many of the other films. Buyer beware!)
The film itself probably needs no further introduction. It is a beautiful and sad *comedy* on humanity and Humanism, touched, as all Godard's films of this period were, by his tangible love for Anna Karina - whom he photographs as if he were trying to remember forever. The poetry of Paul Eluard is used to wonderful effect in her awakening, and the film is filled with brilliant visual humour - like the swimmers, mentioned above. A stunning film, and one that seems even more daring and original now than it did when it came out - a sad reflection on the current state of cinema, where even alternative films are trying so hard to please.
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on May 4, 1999
Like the reviewer above, I was puzzled as to why Criterion would release this film in full frame format when everything else about the edition seemed so meticulously struck, so I thought other people might be interested in Criterion's explanation as to ask why this DVD copy was in the full frame format.
Even though Criterion released the so called widescreen edition previously (1.66:1 letterboxed), each time they re-strike a new product, they will continually consider how the specific movie is supposed to be seen. What I was told was that even though most Europeans probably saw the 1.66:1 widescreen version in the theaters when it was released, it was their belief through a lot of research and interviews, that Godard framed, and meant for the film to be in 1.33:1 - and it was the releasing company that decided on the 1.66:1 format themselves. They told me at Criterion, that neither is necessarily wrong, but that they decided to go with what they believed most suited the vision of it's maker.
I bought the DVD after hearing their explanation, and you will most likely agree with them when you view this version. From the balance of titles and words on the screen, to the way that shots are constructed (such as a sequence which is obviously intentionally composed of only gesturing hands on the edge of the frame during a conversation) I think their argument is right on the mark. Remember in this season of widescreen fever, it shouldn't be widescreen for the sake of widescreen, but to present the thing the way it was intended to be seen.
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on January 20, 1999
Mr. Maltin wouldn't know a good movie if it was fed to him. He's too simple-minded to know _how_ to praise "The Bicycle Thief" (see his review on, and too easily bored to appreciate "Alphaville."
Godard has created an entire world with language and gestures. Rather than invest in special effects that will look dated in a few years (i.e., James Cameron), Godard presents Brave New World as a 40's detective picture. It is about life in the 20th century in the same way Orwell's "1984" was about life in 1948: art built from the worst fears about what life is becoming, and the hope of human traits that may still thrive under such pressure.
"Alphaville" has the low-key acting usually seen in Godard's films, and the effect always fascinates me: in a single scene a performance that seems to be a joke about cinematic artifice also has an emotional impact. This is rare; directors and actors are often after either naturalism or histrionics, and while some actors brilliantly achieve both with more "over the top" performances ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"), Godard appreciates quiet introspection in an actor. Eddie Constantine is a poet, philosopher, and a violent thug, and Anna Karina is a poised robot slowly discovering her own humanity; both actors communicate through subtle expressions and soft-spoken questions and answers. Robert Mitchum and Veronica Lake would have been right at home in this film; it's a shame more reviewers don't understand this.
"Alphaville" is several films at once: a study of American film noir (a genre mainly discovered by French writers) from a director who understood the rampant pessimism that characterized it. It is also a chilling nightmare about freedom vs security, and as a film of the 60's it is about modern culture becoming postmodern, a hilarious joke told calmly through clenched teeth. Alphaville is a brave film.
This DVD is odd in that it didn't appear letterboxed on my TV, but 1.33:1 isn't a very wide screen. Still, the VHS release is clearly letterboxed. Odd.
In some places (right at the beginning) I thought could see blocky artifacts, as if the film had been poorly digitized for this release. Other than that, the picure and sound were beautiful and clear, and the ability to turn off the subtitles is great; once you've seen it a few times you can turn off the English translation and let the movie wash over you. Highly recommended.
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on January 22, 2001
As someone observed earlier, Leonard Maltin is anything but an educated reviewer. His opinion, as well as other seemingly reputed reviews (see "Video Hound's Golden Movie Retriever"), comes from a certain culture, best embodied by the Texas resident below.
"Alphaville" is, simply, a masterpiece, and represents in many ways the peak of an evolution in cinema, where movies truly become a form of art and accomplish catharsis, beyond the "pure entertainment" model. Stay away from it, though, if your favorite kind of film is "Dude, Where's My Car?" or if you think "Starship Troopers" is simply a slam-bang/special effects carnival.
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