Saturday, September 17, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard - Alphaville

The final movie in that Godard bluray set I reviewed way back in 2016 for the old Geekologists blog was Alphaville. For the last few days I've been republishing the reviews after the legendary director died earlier in the week. If you've never watched any of Godard's work, I've heartily suggest Breathless or Alphaville as your starting points...

(Originally published February 2016)

Today, the 1st February 2016, STUDIOCANAL is releasing a boxed set of films by the legendary director Jean-Luc Godard on blu-ray. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reviewing the disks one at a time, and this week I turn my attentions to the final movie in the set, 1965’s “Alphaville”.

After the bright colours of the previous movies, Godard returns to black and white again with this film-noir set in a strange and distant city across the galaxies called Alphaville. Eddie Constantine plays Lemmy Caution, an American private-eye that originated in a series of books from the 30’s and 40’s, sent to Alphaville with a number of missions. He arrives under the alias of Ivan Johnson, a journalist for Figaro-Pravda, and quickly discovers that the city is under the control of a massive computer - Alpha 60, created by Professor von Braun.

The computer has outlawed emotion and love, in favour of logic and control. Those who show emotion are executed. Bibles in the hotel rooms are replaced with dictionaries, constantly updated as words are outlawed and replaced with authorised ones. 

Lemmy Caution meets Natacha von Braun (the wonderful Anna Karina again), daughter of the man who created the computer, hoping to gain access to the Professor in order to either capture or kill the Professor and destroy the Alpha 60 computer. However, he falls for Natacha, and she starts to show feelings for him - a criminal offence that could lead to her execution.

Alphaville is a stunningly clever bit of science fiction, carefully presented as a classy film noir. Godard uses his experimental eye again with the use of negative film, and some amazing tracking shots, following the actors into elevators and filming from another elevator through the glass as they travel. Fantastic cinematography, especially for 1965. 

The city of Alphaville was filmed in Paris, focusing on the new architecture and building that is a long cry from the loving portrayal of the city in Breathless, and in black and white it really can feel like an alien city at times. But it is the portrayals of Caution and Natacha that once again make this film. Constantine looks like he’s been pulled straight from the novels that inspired his character, and Karina once again brings sensitivity and emotion to a place and movie that is otherwise devoid of these things.

It is a slow and brooding piece of cinema that is not for everyone, but is hauntingly mesmerising and presented in a restored blu-ray that maintains the the gorgeous black and whites, and keeps the cool grain of its source. The only let down is the lack of extras on this disc compared to the massive amount on the other discs in the set. We have the introduction by Colin McCabe, a trailer, some poster images, and a new interview with Anna Karina (under 5mins). 

However, with the other four movies in the set that I’ve reviewed over the last five weeks (Breathless, Une femme est une femme, Le M├ępris, and Pierrot le Fou), the Essential Godard collection blu-ray is exactly that, essential. A perfect way to add some class, some beauty and a whole lot of cool to your blu-ray collection. 

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