Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film Alphaville mixes bleakness with playfulness, and sterility with passion. Which is quite deliberate. The future city of Alphaville is a society that no longer has room for love, or poetry, or play. And it looks exactly like our world, and again that’s the point. We’re creating our own Alphaville. Godard simply shot the movie in 1965 Paris, with no science fiction props or futuristic costumes or any of the trappings we normally associate with science fiction. But it’s definitely a science fiction film. It’s also a film noir, and combining science fiction (at that time a genre very much associated with ideas of progress and optimism) with film noir (a genre associated with pessimism and alienation) was an inspired idea in 1965. Today it’s become a cliché, but it wasn’t then.
And putting together Eddie Constantine, a man with absolutely the most weather-beaten and defeated looking face you’ll ever see, with the luminously beautiful Anna Karina was also inspired. And they both deliver very fine performances. The black-and-white cinematography is incredibly stark but incredibly beautiful. And there are some strange and disturbing images, specially the swimming pool execution scene.
I may have made Alphaville sound depressing, but actually it isn’t it. It’s a surprisingly hopeful movie, and it’s also a lot of fun. Godard is a man who loves movies, especially American movies, and loves popular culture. It’s also at times very funny. It’s a passionate defence of the importance of love and art and play. This is a great movie.