Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Alphaville (1965)

"Sometimes, reality is too complex for oral communication." So begins one of Jean-Luc Godard's most seminal films, serving as it does as the dividing line between his early movie-brat films, concerned with genre and moments out of time, and his second-wave films filled with long, complex dialogue and political insinuations. The framework suggests a typical noir story garnished with sci-fi elements, as rumpled private dick Lemmy Caution (played with stoic panache by Eddie Constantine) attempts to find Professor Von Braun, a ruthless mad scientist-turned megalomaniac ruler of the distant cosmic hamlet of Alphaville while also engaged in a strange, halting relationship with the Professor's daughter (Anna Karina!). That's really just the cover story, though -- running alongside the detective story is a arch, wordy treatise on how the vagaries of language can obfuscate and inhibit meaning, especially when emotion is separated from logic (the denizens of Alphaville are not allowed love or passion). While this often makes for some dryly philosophical passages, Godard also indulges his strange and welcome sense of humor in making his point -- in particular, the funniest scene exemplifies logical literalism, as Lemmy duly drops a coin into a vending machine that reads, "Insert One Token," only to get nothing more than a placard that reads, "Merci." Too, Godard's mise-en-scene tends towards elision rather than explication, heavy on the odd setups and purposely misframed action scenes. (The elevator sequence, with its striking use of offscreen space and tight framing, seems to me some manner of genius.) A strangely seductive film, all suggestion and atmosphere; gets pretty logy near the end, but still pretty damn entertaining. You can't say that about 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, can you?

Grade: B


Blogger chris said...

I thought 2 or 3 Things... was greatly entertaining

1:57 AM  

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