Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Movie Review: Alphaville 4 1/2 Stars

“Once we know the number one, we believe that we know the number two, because one plus one equals two. We forget that, first, we must know the meaning of plus.”

Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard’s modernist merging of two-fisted potboiler and dystopian science fiction, is the proto-cyberpunk inspiration for the films Blade Runner and Until the End of the World. A deceptively simple story of love-conquers-all, or at least tries to conquer all, Alphaville expresses the rather Luddite fear that a dependence on a technocracy will lead to the suppression of human emotions. Human emotions are, after all, highly illogical.

Alphaville--Paris in the near future--is like a twisted version of The Phantom Tollbooth’s Digitopolis. Life, and the way to live it, has been reduced to its most mathematical essence. A sentient computer named Alpha 60 lords over Alphaville with an iron fist. Freethinkers and dissenters are publicly executed, albeit as part of an elaborate and balletic synchronized swimming event.

Private dick Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constanine) has arrived in Paris from the Outlands, the unruly Dictionopolis to Alphaville’s Digitopolis. His mission is to destroy Alpha 60 and its creator, Professor Von Braun (Howard Vernon). Lemmy immediately confounds Alpha 60 by proclaiming at a customs inquisition that the things he loves above all others are “poetry and women.” He further confuses the machine by falling in love with Von Braun’s daughter, Natasha (Anna Karina), who learns how to return the favor in kind. Their love, of course, will prove disastrous to the totalitarian state because it defies all logic.

Godard infuses the world of Alphaville with his signature dry, cynical sense of humor and the burgeoning politicking he would soon become known for. However, Alphaville’s most remarkable quality is the simplicity with which a future world is conveyed. Dipping into his New Wave bag of tricks, Godard creates the world of Alphaville with an incredibly delicate economy.

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