Combustible Celluloid
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With: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karinam, Akim Tamiroff
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 99
Date: 05/05/1965

Alphaville (1965)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Inspirations of Conscience

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville ostensibly combines the detective genre with the sci-fi genre, but the result is all Godard. It stars American actor Eddie Constantine as private eye Lemmy Caution, a role that Constantine had already played in several cheap "B" movies. (Did Godard actually watch some of them?) Caution is called to the outlands, to Alphaville, a sinister city run by an evil computer; it's supposed to be the future, but it's really just Paris in 1965. No effort was made to disguise it or dress it up, although it certainly does look uninviting.

Searching for Professor von Braun, Caution finds his daughter, the lovely Natacha (Godard's muse Anna Karina). Plot is even less important here than in many other Godards, and the point is to simply follow the interconnected, unconnected stream of ideas. The film is so slippery that it's often difficult to remember just what you saw, or if you saw it. It's rather impressive to watch Constantine's pickled, reptilian mug, grimly recording everything that goes on around him, as if there were some mystery to be solved. But, regardless, it really does feel like Godard has transported us to some other world, even if it's all a colossal put-on.

Impressively, Godard made Pierrot le Fou the same year. The Criterion Collection released an old laserdisc and DVD, and both are out of print now. In 2019, Kino Lorber released an essential Blu-ray edition, which looks and sounds great with its grimy black-and-white and shocking, shrieking soundtrack. It includes a commentary track by Tim Lucas, an interview with Karina, an introduction by Colin McCabe, and trailers.

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