Alphaville Review

Image for Alphaville

Private eye Lemmy Caution is dispatched to a sinister futuristic metropolis to liberate its enslaved citizens by destroying the controlling Alpha 60 computer.


Borrowing a character from Peter Cheyney's cult novels, Jean-Luc Godard has cross-generic fun throughout this dark political allegory, as he blends lowbrow pulp with intellectual paranoia and hypocrisy. Sci-fi, comic books, hard-boiled paperbacks, B movies and serials are all referenced as Godard turns Eddie Constantine into a Bogartesque anti-hero who operates in a supposedly futuristic city that can only be reached through intersidereal space.

But, in fact, it can be accessed by crossing a bridge, as Alphaville is none other than contemporary Paris, which is given the soulless feel of a distant dystopia by cinematographer Raoul Coutard's inspired use of its bleak modernist architecture and nocturnal illumination.

Godard shrewdly anticipates the omniscience of computers and the dehumanisation of a near-robotic humanity through such Orwellian strategies as the suppression of art, love, thought and individuality. But his concerns lie more in the present than the future.

The Nazi Occupation was still a recent memory in the 1960s and Godard suggests that a nation that had already succumbed to one totalitarian regime was predisposed towards accepting another with equal meekness, especially as it had so readily come to trust science and technology as forces for good. Thus, it's no accident that the nefarious mastermind is called Von Braun or that he's a boffin (in keeping with Dr Strangelove's satirical demonisation of academic megalomania). What's more disturbing is the fact that the residents all bear tattooed numbers and that Godard filmed in the Gestapo's Parisian headquarters, the Hotel Continental. It's sinisterly ironic, therefore, that the picture won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

For all its populism, the action is also packed with learned allusions to Cocteau, Kafka and the myths of Eurydice and Lot's wife. Such is Godard's genius that these highbrow references never overwhelm the pulp and that the disposable is prevented from trivialising the valuable - unlike in Alphaville or, unfortunately, our own dumbed-down times.

Although drastically different to the rest of Godard's oeuvre, it has had a lasting impact with its ground-breaking visuals, which are still stunning now. A great retelling of the old Greek myth.