Sunday, June 20, 2010

Godard's Alphaville Is Brilliant

I have been binging on the work of the French New Wave of late. I am fully obsessed with the work of Jean-Luc Godard. Godard was on the forefront of the movement (along with his best friend at the time, Francois Truffaut) that helped usher in a cultural revolution in France in the 1960's. This was the group of filmmakers that directly influenced the great American directors of the 1970's - Scorsese, Coppola, Speilberg, and Malick to name just a few.

Last night I finally saw Alphaville: or the Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution. Alphaville is Godard's dystopian future society. Technically this is labeled under Sci-Fi, but none of the visual cues borrow from the traditional understanding of the science fiction genre. Exteriors were filmed in Paris, with no attempt to cover the antiquated architecture of the city. Interiors do feel modernist, but not futuristic. This alone adds a feeling of realism to the story.

Set sometime in the future, Alphaville is a city operated by a computerized nerve center, called the Alpha 60. A man posing as a reporter comes from the Outlands to the city to accomplish several missions, though we do not know what they are at first. He meets the daughter of the professor responsible for the Alpha 60 project (the spectacularly beautiful Anna Karina), and soon becomes romantically involved with
her. It becomes apparent that emotions are seen as irrational behaviours, and individuals who display those behaviours will be removed from society - i.e. a man who wept at the death of his wife is executed for "irrational responses".

This is a brilliant, thought provoking film that clearly influenced the work of
Terry Gilliam (especially Twelve Monkeys) and Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky as but two examples. This film is a must see for any cinefile, and is a film that will stick with you long after it ends. His visual style is a breakthrough for the period, utilizing hand-held camera shots and harsh cuts. Engaging.

Godard likes to pack his films with exterior references, and this film is no different - touching on everything from the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges to Heckel & Jeckel to existential philosophy to silent film. It's one of the things I like best about Godard's 60's films - the referents point the viewer in multiple directions, allowing the film to be unwrapped like a riddle.

Give it a shot, it's well worth it.

"Every edit is a lie" - Jean-Luc Godard